A late Fourth Season story and Part III in my Integrity Series:
“I hope that your fascination with Captain Crane has been satisfied.”
“Completely, Admiral. You on the other hand are another story.
I'd be most interested to see what else is in that beautiful mind of yours...”
Dr. Vanessa Paris, When Memories Fade
The prison guards ran in a fury, opening the cell door and turning the prone woman over, noting immediately the white bubbles foaming out of her mouth along with the odd smell of almonds.
“It's cyanide, get the doctor,” one ordered as the second guard felt for her pulse.
“Too late,” she said laying her limp wrist down, “she's dead.”
A sheet was placed over Vanessa Paris' face as a stretcher was summoned and the scientist convicted of multiple crimes including treason, assault, kidnapping and attempted murder was carried to the infirmary where she was loaded into a waiting ambulance for delivery to the Coroner.
The ambulance left the prison and headed for the interstate, but instead of driving to the morgue it turned the opposite direction to a remote field. The sheet was pulled back as the ambulance driver inserted a needle injecting an antidote which immediately produced a moan from the formally lifeless woman. Vanessa Paris was carried to the helicopter and placed in her brother's lap with a blanket to cover her dull, grey, shapeless, prison dress.
As the helicopter took off another body was loaded into the ambulance, the young blonde woman was dressed in the same prison garb; her body having been “borrowed” from the same morgue would be used to verify Vanessa Paris' death then returned for burial. There would be no one to claim Vanessa's “body” and she would subsequently be “buried” with the small marker of an unclaimed grave in the “potter's” section of the county cemetery.
Vanessa's eyes fluttered open, smiling weakly as she lay with her head resting heavily on Jason Paris' shoulder; even in her weakened state she was busy finalizing her plans for Captain Crane. It would be a pleasure taking care of her favorite test subject, but Crane was only a means to an end for what she really wanted... a chance to delve into and study the fascinating mind of Admiral Harriman Nelson.
* * * * *
Lee checked his watch again.
“I don't know Admiral,” he said with a sigh, “I think we've been stood up,” he finished with a raised eyebrow.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Harry replied gruffly.
“Maybe they changed their minds on the grant,” Lee shrugged.
“Well if they did I would think a phone call would have been in order.”
Lee nodded, but only smiled inwardly as he knew Harry was quite annoyed at the lateness of Dr. Farina and her two constituents from Good Ideas Philanthropic Foundation, a charitable endeavor from a very rich unknown donor who sought worthy causes to invest their very hefty tax deductible donations.
“Why don't I make another call? Perhaps they left a message with Angie. It really could be something as simple as a flat tire,” Lee offered, trying to give Farina the benefit of the doubt.
“I suppose, but she was the one who insisted on this luncheon, I would have much rather started in the office,” Harry lamented.
“I'll be right back, Sir,” Lee said, heading for the phone booth in the lobby.
* * * * *
It was Harry's turn to check his watch as Lee had left over fifteen minutes ago to call NIMR. He couldn't for the life of him figure why it would take that long to find out if Dr. Farina had called or not.
“More coffee, Sir?” the waitress asked politely.
“No thank you,” Harry replied, barely able to keep his annoyance in check. Good grief, he'd already had three cups waiting the last 45 minutes! And just where is Lee? he thought sourly before rubbing the bridge of his nose and purposely reining in his irritation. Fine, Farina is a no-shown, he and Lee might as well enjoy a nice lunch before returning to the office, he thought, redirecting his mood into acceptance of the fact that sometimes these things happened.
“Yes,” Harry said, offering a smile this time to the patient waitress.
“We just received this message by courier, it's addressed to you,” she said, clearly perplexed by the unorthodox way the message was received.
“Thank you, Miss,” he said reaching for the envelope.
He opened it wondering just who had tracked him down here, before surmising it was most likely a message from Dr. Farina.
It's about time, he noted silently, figuring this was an apology for missing the meeting and expecting to find a request to reschedule. He opened the envelope finding a typed written note, as Harry's brow furled at the cryptic message.
Now the game begins.
Time to see what's in that beautiful mind of yours.
The furl across Harry's brow tightened as he looked across at Lee's empty seat. It was just something he felt; there was something sinister in the note, though there was no specific threat. He decided to find out what was keeping Lee and headed to the lobby, finding an empty phone booth. The next obvious place was the men's room, he hated to be intrusive but it wasn't like Lee to leave him sitting alone for the last twenty minutes. A quick check came up empty, as he retreated back to the lobby.
“Excuse me,” he inquired of the maître d’, “Did you happen to see my associate? He's in uniform as well,” Harry asked, not familiar with this particular maître d’ as he usually frequented the restaurant in the evening.
“Tall, dark hair and wearing a uniform like yours?” he asked.
“Yes, that's the one.”
“I saw him leave with a lady friend, oh about... fifteen, twenty minutes ago,” he recalled helpfully.
Harry scanned his eyes back to the table where both their service caps still sat neatly on the chairs beside them. He knew Lee was military through and through and wouldn't think about leaving in uniform without his cover.
“You're sure?” he questioned.
“Yes, his arm was wrapped around her shoulder and they seemed a bit chummy,” the maître d’ replied waggling his eyebrows.
Harry looked down at the envelope he was holding with the strange note.
“Were you here when this was delivered?” he asked, putting two and two together and immediately smelling trouble: not only did Lee leave without his cover, he was seen leaving in a clear case of PDA, public display of affection.
“Ah yes,” he answered, recognizing the envelope.
“Did you see who delivered it?” Harry asked.
“A courier service called 'Speedy for You,' I've seen their vans around town, they're the ones with the Eiffel Tower painted on them,” he added.
“Can you describe the woman?” Harry probed.
“A pretty brunette, the way he was leaning on her I'd say they were old friends, though he didn't look too well when they left. Her driver had to help him into the car.”
Harry's eyebrows rose instantly. “He was unwell?”
“I didn't notice it at first, but he started walking like he was working off a few martinis from lunch,” the maître d’ added with his own raised eyebrow.
“I can assure you, Captain Crane only drank coffee, nothing else,” Harry added. “Now did you see the car he left in?”
“A black limo, by the way she slid in beside him I'd say she was planning on nursing him back to health, if you know what I mean,” he answered with another waggle of the eyebrows.
Harry ignored the obvious inference to the perceived improper behavior by Seaview's Captain.
“Very well,” he said pulling out a business card and handing it over. “Your name is?”
“Very well, Tennyson. If you think of anything else, would you please call me at that number; if I'm not available my secretary will take whatever message you have.”
With that Harry hurried back to the dining room and placed a generous amount of cash on the table to cover their coffee along with a hefty tip, then collected both their service caps and hurried out the door.
Tennyson raised an eyebrow as he watched the Admiral leave, thinking that the younger officer was in a lot of trouble for ditching his commanding officer for the brunette.
* * * * *
Inside the dark limo, Lee's head laid limply against the back of the seat. He was conscious but unable to move, and breathing raggedly at the painful effects of the drug. Next to him sat a woman he thought he'd never see again, Dr. Vanessa Paris. Only three months ago he'd been advised that she had committed suicide while serving in a maximum security prison for women. Her hair was blonde then, but it was her voice that gave everything away.
Lee had headed to the lobby to use the phone booth. He reached into his pocket for a dime, but then stopped his movement. It was more than the gun pressed into his back hidden under a scarf; it was the voice he heard.
“Hello Captain Crane.”
He turned slowly, aware of another patron in the lobby and looked into the eyes of the petite brunette; her eyes cold and devoid of humanity, just as he always remembered. But it was her voice that sealed his recognition, a voice that tormented him in a long torture session to reveal the secret codes that would have enabled Seaview's nuclear weapons. For five injections of her so-called “Brainwash in a Hypo” drug he endured her whispering into his ear with false concern, urging him to betray his country by trying to convince him she was his only ally.
“Keep your hands where I can see them and no sudden moves,” she cautioned.
Lee obeyed, having no choice with the gun pointed at his belly and a restaurant full of innocents to be protected.
“I thought you were dead,” he stated blandly, which resulted in a wry smile from Dr. Vanessa Paris.
“That was the idea,” she replied, taking advantage of the fact that she was holding the gun and taking the time to caress the side of Lee's face down to his jaw. Lee glared at her touch, but not willing to make a scene that could cause the innocent patrons of the restaurant harm. She proceeded to run her hand down his neck where she suddenly tapped harshly. Immediately Lee felt the prick from the sharp projectile hidden in her ring and just as quickly its affects, as the drug barely left him standing.
“Now my dear captain, it's time to start the game,” she said with a smile as he swayed precariously and tucked herself under his arm for support.
The maître d’ took that moment to pass by as Vanessa added a giddy laugh.
“Oh Captain, not here. Wait till I get you alone,” she giggled creating an illusion of putting off an over-anxious lover. “My, you shouldn't have had those martinis without me,” she continued while adjusting him on her shoulder and allowing his unresponsive hand to fall across her bosom. She kept up the guise walking him toward the door where the driver of the limousine quickly stepped forward to help as Lee passed an airy moan and his knees buckled.
The limo was parked just outside under the awning, as Lee was loaded inside with Vanessa cuddling up next to him landing a long kiss for the maître d’ to see before the driver shut the door and the darkened windows obstructed his view.
The maître d’ raised his eyebrows thinking that the good captain was just about to get “lucky” and shook his head at the fact that some guys had all the fun.
Once the door was shut and their privacy secured, Vanessa sat back victoriously as Lee breathed unevenly under the drug's influence.
“It's a little something I worked up several years ago,” Vanessa explained as they drove away. “It's quite effective wouldn't you say?” she asked rhetorically. “You're terribly uncomfortable, completely compliant, and unable to affect any type of escape... perfect because I want you to understand what's happening Captain Crane,” she continued evilly. “I'm not after you Captain,” she went on to explain, “Although you do make a good test subject being so resilient and all,” she added almost whimsically. “Indeed, it's because you're so resilient that makes this plan so wonderful,” she mused in self-praise. “You're going to be the pawn in this game to get to my real subject... Admiral Nelson,” she announced.
Lee squeezed his eyes closed, partly in pain and partly at the stabbing in his heart as Vanessa revealed her interest in Harry once again. He opened his eyes and exhaled raggedly, trying to speak.
“You've met your match... with the Admiral,” he breathed out. “You'll never... get away with... this,” he finished.
“We'll see, my dear Captain. We'll see,” she replied sitting back completely unaffected by the uncomfortable grunts produced by the influence of her drug.
Sweat rolled down his face as the pain escalated, just before the limo came to a stop.
“Good,” Vanessa noted, looking over Lee's condition. “Just perfect,” she said to herself, as the limo rolled into a garage and the door closed behind them.
He was left alone for a short time as Vanessa and the driver got out, but found himself physically unable to make strategic use of the fact to affect an escape. When the door opened again, Vanessa was wearing a white nurse's uniform. The driver and a second man pulled Lee out, removing his uniform jacket and tie, before handing them to Vanessa, then placed him on an ambulance gurney. They were also dressed in white, obviously now playing the ambulance drivers as they pulled the sheet up to his torso and cinched the belts down.
In all their handling he was unable to move and was subsequently handled like a rag doll. He gasped suddenly, as the pain moved up the scale once again.
“Very good,” Vanessa purred, knowing his current state would add credibility to anyone checking on her patient.
Lee opened his mouth intending to tell her just what he thought of her, but lost the battle as his eyes closed and he fell into a drug-induced sleep with his head tossing uncomfortably. He was transferred to an ambulance as Vanessa climbed in with her “patient” and the two drivers backed out. They drove to the airport where a private jet was waiting to rush the “terminally ill patient” to fulfill his “dying wish” of visiting a Caribbean island.
* * * * *
Harry tapped his desk impatiently, his green blotter getting a work-out today as he had made several calls in order to eliminate possible scenarios for Lee's disappearance. His call to ONI had been fruitless hours earlier as Admiral Johnson was currently unavailable in high level meetings. There weren't many times that Harry hoped that ONI had made use of their right to call up Seaview's Captain for a mission, but this was one of them. It was a long-shot, but a secret mission whisking Lee away in a clandestine operation would be preferable to the idea that Lee had been kidnapped.
“All I want to know is if you've called Lee for an assignment,” Harry asked without any pleasantries.
“Good afternoon to you too, Harriman,” Johnson replied sardonically.
Harry blew a breath out, trying to ease back the tension he allowed out with his non-greeting.
“I don't have time for this Gerald. Lee is missing and I need to know if ONI called him up for an assignment.”
“Missing?” Gerald asked, leaning forward over his desk.
This wasn't sounding good, as Harry got the definite impression that all of this was news to the ONI Director.
“We were waiting for a lunch appointment that turned out to be a no-show. Lee left the table to make a call and never came back. The maître d’ claims Lee left with a woman, hanging all over her and drunk off his feet.”
“Lee Crane?” Gerald questioned with a raised voice, as the behavior described didn't match the officer and gentleman that he knew.
“Exactly,” Harry agreed.
“To answer your first question... No, Lee is not on assignment,” Gerald replied, having a good handle on all current operations, even those he wasn't personally overseeing.
“I think you’d better tell me everything, Harriman,” he continued to Harry's resigned nod and disappointment that Gerald didn't have better news for him.
Harry spent the next fifteen minutes recounting the events at the restaurant; his attention to detail keen and sharp, leaving nothing out.
“Have you checked out the courier service?”
“My secretary inquired, but they cited confidentiality and we came up empty.”
“I'll take care of it,” Gerald said, writing notes as they spoke. “Limo service?”
“Same story, my secretary has been on the phone all day, but we get the same story from all the services, confidentiality.”
“Got it,” Gerald said, sighing loudly in self-contemplation. “No ransom note...” he thought out loud. “I'm afraid we're looking at a long list of names for the standard question of who might be holding a grudge against Lee Crane,” he admitted.
“Don't you think I know that?” Harry asked rhetorically, but without malice; simply a matter of fact.
A rap on his door interrupted their phone call as Angie Walters opened the door. “Excuse me Admiral.”
“Just a moment, Gerald, we might have something new here,” Harry advised, knowing full well that Angie would never interrupt a phone call between the two admirals without due cause.
“Go ahead Angie.”
“Admiral, I thought this deserved your prompt attention. I tried calling back Dr. Farina at the Foundation and the phone number is no longer in service. I did some further checking and confirmed it with the telephone service. The phone was disconnected this afternoon at 1:00 pm.”
Harry slapped a hand down on the desk in disgust. “Right after Lee disappeared,” he said disgustedly.
“Very well, Angie. Good work, keep chasing down any lead you can find,” Harry admonished.
“What's going on, Harriman?” Gerald asked through the phone line, impatiently waiting from his end.
“Add the local Bell to your list, Gerald,” he said with a huff. “Miss Walters has confirmed that Dr. Farina's phone number was disconnected at roughly the same time Lee disappeared; 1:00 pm.”
Gerald blew a long whistled breath out and heaved a bigger sigh over the phone.
“I'm afraid we're looking at a well-planned operation here, Harriman,” he said, before getting an inspiration.
“Actually, this may just narrow our list of suspects. I'll get on it from my end, Harriman. You do the same and we'll confer again when either of us has something new.”
“Aye Gerald and thanks.”
“Crane's one of our best, Harriman,” Gerald replied, keeping his personal concern neatly in check even though Harry knew that ONI's Director thought highly of Lee on a personal level, as well as the fact that he was a highly skilled operative.
“Very well, I'll have Miss Walters contact your office with all the pertinent information.”
“Of course,” Harry replied, disconnecting the line and immediately reaching for his intercom.
“Angie, Admiral Johnson's secretary is waiting for the all the information and contacts you've made thus far.”
“Yes Admiral, I'll get right on it.”
Harry tapped off his intercom then leaned forward with his elbows on his desk. There had to be something they missed. While the abduction had been a well-thought out endeavor it hadn't left them without clues; the brunette being the most obvious. She could have been nothing but “hired help,” but Harry didn't want to overlook the obvious, as he mentally thought through adversaries who might fit that description from Seaview voyages gone awry. He knew Gerald would be doing the same for ONI missions and concentrated, coming up empty.
He pushed his chair away from the desk and headed for his credenza, where Angie kept his coffee pot full throughout the day. He poured himself a cup and then gazed out the window, missing the view in deep thought.
She doesn't have to be a brunette; he surmised knowing that a wig or dye job could broaden their short list of suspects. He took a sip and concentrated, shaking his head after a few moments. There had indeed been some women in the definite “bad guy” category over the years, but everyone he could think of was still incarcerated. Victoria Mason had poisoned Lee trying to extort Harry into diverting to her father's sea lab before taking a much needed generator to another underwater facility.* Then there was Cynthia Parker, an enemy agent who was part of an elaborate scheme to convince Lee he had been in a coma for six months in order to gain Intel from a recent mission. She was currently serving her sentence in a high security prison.** He pursed his lips at the thought of both unscrupulous women and continued his mental round-up.
Vanessa Paris... now there was one of the most dangerous criminals Seaview had ever faced, either male or female. She was a brilliant scientist who used her high intellect to develop drugs used to torture and extract information from her hapless victims. Their first run-in with her nearly put Seaview in the hands of a foreign power with her nukes fully armed. Lee had endured an incredible five injections of her interrogation drug that utilized all the elements of brainwashing into a hypodermic needle. Had it not been for one of the CIA's best agents, her plan might have succeeded. Their second run-in with the blonde beauty had been a race to save both Lee's memory and his life, as Dr. Paris had surgically inserted a micro-chip that left Lee with amnesia and debilitating headaches becoming more severe with each episode.
Well, thought Harry with a raised eyebrow, at least that’s one name we can cross off the list, he silently reasoned as they had been informed that Vanessa Paris took her own life about three months ago. It was a mystery how she had obtained the cyanide pill, the fact that her brother Jason had died a similar death five months earlier in his own prison cell suggested they had common help. In any event, that was for the authorities to deal with.
Harry took a sip of his coffee and scowled, realizing it was now lukewarm. He left the mug with his coffee service and headed back to his desk, deciding to turn his mental list onto paper for easy reference. As he sat down the weight of the situation suddenly hit him. His shoulders heaved in a concerned sigh as he considered any number of scenarios of Lee's abduction being related to ONI missions, knowing that none of them would bode well for Lee. He shook off his fears deeming them as unproductive, and strengthened his resolve as he reached for his pad and pen to make a complete list of every female villain he could think of and their current status.
The abduction had taken place in public and in broad daylight... somewhere there was a clue if they just looked hard enough for it.
* * * * *
Lee woke strapped securely to an ambulance gurney on a lavish private jet. He tested his ability to move, but gave up as an unwanted moan escaped.
“Hello Captain Crane,” he heard, turning his head the opposite direction to a voice speaking in false civility. Dr. Paris was still wearing her nurse's uniform and was currently tapping out the air bubbles of another hypo.
“Where are you taking me?” he asked knowing that he probably wouldn't be lucid once she injected him again.
“Did you ever play Scavenger Hunt as a child, Captain?” she said with a thin smile, ignoring his question all together. “Of course you did, and wasn't it more fun when there was a prize at the end of the hunt?” she continued sitting beside him.
“What are you getting at?” he asked groggily.
“Nothing that concerns you right now. We'll be landing soon and you're looking entirely too well,” she smirked, injecting the contents of the hypo into the port of the IV that hung on his gurney.
Lee's breathing increased in heavy pants as the drug worked its way rapidly through his blood stream.
“Why?” he asked with a gasp, before succumbing to the pained sleep once again.
Vanessa reached over and cupped his jaw, caressing his face in a sort of sick clinical affection.
“You really do make such a good test subject, Captain,” she said, rubbing her fingers down his neck. “It really is a shame that I have to give you up... you're so strong and resilient,” she continued as she reached to fiddle with his collar, removing both his dolphin and silver oak insignias, holding them in the air to examine. “But I'm after much bigger game than even you,” she finished with an evil thin smile as she loosened a strap and reached for his unresponsive hand.
* * * * *
The afternoon hadn't produced anything in new clues as Harry was finally forced to go home for the day, but he hadn't stopped working on the problem. They hadn't been contacted for a ransom, which only strengthened the case that Lee had been abducted for another reason; perhaps revenge, or possibly for the wealth of top secret information he possessed, or maybe even to use as leverage against Harry; none of the scenarios portended well for Lee's health. His thoughts were mercifully interrupted by the phone ringing.
“Nelson here,” he answered tersely.
“Harriman, it's Gerald.”
“Have you got something?” Harry quickly inquired.
“We've been trying to run-down the limo service that was used today but weren't having too much luck, that is, until we picked up a police radio call.”
Harry leaned forward, his lips pursed and his forehead furled as Gerald continued.
“It seems this particular limo was rented for the entire day and evening, when the limo didn't return and the driver failed to check in the service contacted the police. The limo was found abandoned; the driver was locked in the trunk. He's badly injured but he'll recover; we're waiting on the doctors to give us clearance to speak with him,” Johnson reported.
Harry blew a concerned breath out, perceiving the situation had gone from bad to worse.
“I assume you want to be there when the driver is questioned,” Gerald offered.
“Yes, of course,” Harry replied without missing a beat.
“The clearance will be on your desk in the morning.”
“Very well Gerald, thank you for the call; we'll talk in the morning.”
The admirals both hung up wearily; Gerald from working overtime as it was past midnight in D.C. and Harry from the stress and tension of realizing that he didn't know if Lee Crane was even alive at this point.
* * * * *
Lee woke to the uncomfortable and all too familiar feeling left behind by a nasty drug administered against his will. He exhaled and turned his head to check out his surroundings, not quite ready to move yet while working through the woozy effects the drug left behind. He was in a cell; by the looks of it, one that had only recently been constructed. Slowly he sat up, swinging his legs to the side of the cot and ran a tired hand down his face. He was a bit sluggish and sporting a good size headache to go with the sore muscles, but otherwise functional.
Next he took stock of himself, noticing his jacket and tie were gone. He vaguely remembered Paris' henchmen taking them before putting him on the gurney. It didn't take long to realize that his black onyx ring was missing from his left hand; he didn't know what to make of that, but right now Vanessa Paris was holding all the cards. He stood and made a quick circuit around his cell; a twelve by twelve foot room with three solid walls and one wall of steel bars, which was where the door was located. His cot was graced with one blanket, a small travel sized pillow and sported a one-inch-thick foam mattress.
“All the comforts of home,” he muttered to himself and continued with the inventory.
In the corner opposite his cot was a bare sink basin with a small mirror mounted over the top and a head with no privacy divider. He walked to the basin to splash water on his face when he caught his reflection in the mirror and noted his other missing possessions, noting both insignias missing from his collars. He didn't have his wallet as it was stowed in the inside breast pocket of his uniform jacket; it seemed the only thing left was his watch. He figured Vanessa hadn't missed this and wanted him to be aware of the passage of time; all for her game, he had no doubt about that. He glanced at the time, noting the date and realized it was the next day; wherever he was he had lost the entire afternoon and evening.
Lee moved back to his cot and sat with his back against the wall staring directly at the barred cell door in front of him, then chuckled humorlessly.
“Just my luck, I don't even have my lock pick kit,” he noted to himself as he didn't have a secret compartment in his dress oxfords. There was nothing to do now but wait; wait until Vanessa Paris made her next move.
* * * * *
Harry arrived at the office bright and early the next morning, despite having spent much of the night thinking through the new information Gerald had provided. He entered his outer office finding both Chip and Angie there waiting, raising an eyebrow at the early morning hour as it was only 0630, then nodding in approval.
“Good to see you Chip, I'm sorry your Leave had to be interrupted like this,” Harry greeted.
“No problem Sir, thank you for calling me,” he answered sincerely, extremely grateful that he hadn't been kept in the dark about Lee's abduction.
Harry acknowledged with a nod, then turned toward Angie with a small tight lipped smile.
“Thank you for coming in so early, Angie,” he offered softly, appreciating both her concern and professionalism. “Now,” he said, returning to Four Star Admiral mode, “Get yourselves a cup of coffee and meet me in the conference room; we have a lot of work to do,” he ordered, turning on his heels and heading inside his office.
“Aye, aye Sir,” Chip replied, determined to do his part to help.
Less than ten minutes later they reconvened in the Conference Room as Harry began the briefing, giving the pair a full run-down of his conversation with Gerald from the night before. Forty-five minutes later, the chalk board was filled with notes as Harry, Chip and Angie poured over all the evidence, including everything that they had forwarded to ONI. Clues were categorized with various lists including: Brunette, Witnesses, Limo Service, Courier Service, and restaurant.
“Well that's everything so far,” Harry said sitting back, the facts sprawled out on three standing chalk boards but no closer to finding Lee. “Until we have more, I suggest we stay busy with what we've got. Angie, you continue to gather and categorize the information as it comes in. Leave no stone unturned, you know what to do,” he added confidently.
“Yes Admiral,” she replied with a nod.
“Chip, you'll be the legs in this operation. I want you to follow-up with the courier and limo services as well as the restaurant, be sure and speak with Tennyson, the maître d’. See if you can dig up whatever we've missed,” Harry directed.
“I'll stay close by the phone to interview the driver as soon as we have clearance from the doctors,” Harry continued. “Very well, thank you both,” he stated sincerely, grateful for the able pair and their help, but still feeling the weight of his missing friend with the various scenarios of his abduction constantly playing in the back of his mind.
He shook it off, determined to keep his mind sharp and find the missing clues. Gerald was right. He had been taken in broad daylight; somewhere there had to be a clue that would lead to Lee Crane.
* * * * *
Lee was sitting against the wall when Dr. Paris made her appearance later that morning. An accompanying guard slid an orange jumpsuit through the open slat on the floor, followed by a breakfast tray.
“Good morning Captain Crane,” she said coolly. “I'm sure your uniform can use a laundering,” she stated flatly. “You will take it off and wear these,” she ordered with a nod to the bright orange clothes on the floor.
“These are fine,” he returned evenly.
“You can change by yourself, or Sal here can help relieve you of your uniform,” she replied without missing a beat.
Lee reconsidered and swung his legs over the side of his cot. He couldn't afford an altercation with Sal, the gorilla henchman would surely do damage and no doubt he'd end up wearing the orange jumpsuit anyway, so he walked over and picked up the bundle of clothes.
“When you're through push your uniform through the bottom slat, I assure you, you'll have them back when the time is right,” she stated cryptically.
Lee studied her eyes, sensing her desire for him to live the “prison” life for the time being and knowing he had no choice at present.
“Do you mind?” he asked rhetorically, referring to his need for privacy as Vanessa produced a smirky smile.
“Believe me Captain Crane, my interest in you is purely professional,” she stated as she turned and left with a laugh. Sal followed her out, leaving Lee grateful that he didn't have to change clothes with an audience.
When he was through he slid his uniform under the door and picked up his breakfast tray; he was still looking for an opening to escape, until then he needed his strength. This was Vanessa Paris' game; he only hoped that her plans didn't include hypo needles. He suppressed a reflexive shudder as he sat on his cot to eat his bland breakfast.
* * * * *
“I've been informed of the abduction,” Dr. Lewis said to the police detective and Admiral Nelson outside the hospital door. “And I know these questions are important, but I must insist on a short visit. If my patient is distressed in the slightest, I'll have to pull the plug on the interview,” he warned.
“We understand,” the detective assured as Dr. Lewis stepped aside.
Harry had waited all day for the call, and it was now late in the afternoon. They entered the hospital room to find a man with a bandage wrapped around his head and a broken arm lying across his chest. The doctor had informed them that a broken rib had punctured his lung when he was removed from the trunk, and the only reason he was approving the visit was that the driver was anxious to speak to the police.
Harry was present as a matter of courtesy and graciously allowed the detective to lead the questioning.
“Mr. Evans,” the detective called lightly as Evan's eyes opened immediately to the greeting. “My name is Detective Barrett, are you up for some questions?” he asked gently.
“Yes sir,” Evans said and then spotted Harry.
“Admiral Nelson?” he greeted excitedly, moving a bit too hastily at seeing the officer in his service khaki uniform, complete with ribbons.
“Yes lad, now don't move, you're pretty banged up,” Harry cautioned. “Can you tell us what happened?” he asked, taking over since Evans had reacted positively to him.
“Yes sir,” he said with a swallow. “I picked up the woman first.”
“A brunette?” Harry asked.
“No sir, a blonde, at least at first. About 5'7”; thin but curvy... a real looker,” he said. “She directed me to the warehouse district and told me to wait. It can get pretty rough down there, so I stood outside to protect the hood ornaments, if you know what I mean?” he asked rhetorically.
Harry nodded. “Go ahead son.”
“Well this big guy... I mean BIG,” he qualified, “Came out with her, only now she has a brown wig and there's another guy dressed in a chaffer's suit just like mine. I could tell something was up and moved to make an emergency call, but the big guy, she called him Sal, anyway he was fast and threw me against the limo. Well, sir, I'm prior military, Army Ranger sir, and I wasn't going to take this laying down. I gave him what I had, but he overtook me. They were talking pretty freely around me, when I heard her talk about kidnapping Captain Crane, so I elbowed the big guy and tried to get away; that's when he let me have it.”
“You took quite a beating,” Harry acknowledged. “What happened next?”
“I was pretty out of it after Sal was done with me, but after they dumped me in the trunk she pulled out this needle and gave me a shot. It must have been some strong sleep juice because I faded fast, but before I lost it she leaned over and told me she had a message for you, sir.”
“To me specifically?”
“Yes sir,” he said reciting her message.
'Admiral Nelson, the game has begun;
The clues are all in place,
Only a brilliant mind can follow them;
But will it be too late?'
“She made me repeat it twice,” he added.
“Did anyone ever use her name?” Det. Barrett asked, joining the conversation.
“They only called her Boss,” he answered tiredly.
Dr. Lewis watched intently, ready to call an end to the interview, but calculated his patient would rest better as he had been quite adamant about speaking with the authorities.
“Was there anything else you can remember; anything at all?” Harry urged.
“No sir, I was out like a light soon afterwards.”
Harry reached over and patted Evans' shoulder. “You rest up now, son. I can't thank you enough for what you tried to do, but now you need to look to your recovery.”
“Yes sir, Admiral Sir,” he replied with a sigh as if he could truly rest now.
Harry, the detective and the doctor all three retreated from the room as Harry pulled out a business card and wrote on the back.
“That boy has gumption,” Harry commented as he wrote. “Doctor, would you be so kind as to give this to Mr. Evans? Ask him to call me if he remembers anything... anything at all.”
Detective Barrett handed his card over with similar instructions before heading to the elevators, as Dr. Lewis turned over Harry's card to see a message scribbled on the back:
“I could use a man like you, come see me at NIMR if you're interested in a career change.”
Dr. Lewis raised his eyebrows and smiled, then returned to the hospital room to tend to his patient.
* * * * *
Lee was escorted from his cell to another wing of the building to find Vanessa Paris sitting at a table for dinner. His hands were cuffed in front of him, while the .45 caliber in his back encouraged his cooperation. He was seated at the table as Sal uncuffed his hands, recuffing one hand to the side of his chair before retreating to his post.
“So good of you to join me, Captain,” Vanessa purred. “You'll be happy to know that Admiral Nelson is playing the game handsomely. Oh he's been a busy bee, trying to find the clues I left. I admit, they're rather obscure, but I'm about to give him one that should break it all wide open,” she explained proudly.
“Nelson won't be fooled by your tricks,” Lee warned.
“Why Captain, you miss the point. First I want to test his intellect in the field, then I can move on to a more clinical study. You see I need a mind as sharp as his for some of my more... advanced studies,” she explained cryptically.
Lee tested the hold of his cuff holding his right hand in place, not liking the sound of Vanessa's veiled threat one bit. He feared that Harry would be the next subject in her lab and determined within himself to do everything he could to keep that from happening. His left hand flexed into a fist on his lap as dinner plates were placed in front of them; hers an appetizing steak and salmon meal with all the earmarks of a master chef, while his plate sported a Salisbury steak with chopped meat formed into the likeness of a real steak, topped with cheap brown gravy poured over instant potatoes, the meal rounded off with a healthy portion of over steamed frozen peas.
Okay, he got it; she was giving him the meals she was subjected to while in prison.
“Enjoy Captain Crane, while my surroundings were never this lavish, I can assure you your meal is a hundred times more palatable than the ones I was served,” she said cutting into her steak.
Lee picked up his fork and ate without complaint, not planning on giving her the satisfaction of protesting his meal; besides, it was far better than some meals he'd endured while being unfortunately “detained” on an ONI mission gone bad.
His bright orange jumpsuit clashed terribly with the elaborate dining room as the two ate in silence. He decided now would be a good time to go fishing for information.
“So how did you fake your own death?” he asked reaching for his tin cup of water.
“What was the official cause of death?” she countered raising her wine glass for a sip.
“Suicide by cyanide poisoning,” he recited, resulting in a thin smile on her face.
“Just a little something I developed which mimics the effects of cyanide, it's actually just as deadly and I assure you just as painful,” she added with a sneer that she quickly released. “Unless the antidote is administered in time, that is,” she explained.
Lee thought for a moment and then nodded.
“Then I assume Jason's death was also staged.”
Vanessa smiled. “Oh you are so sharp, Captain. Yes, Jason is alive and well and will be joining us very soon.”
Great! he thought inwardly and quite sarcastically as Jason was as ruthless as his heartless sister.
“You must have had a great deal of help to pull it off,” he fished.
“We have lots of friends my dear Captain,” she said taking a sip, studying him over her wine glass.
Lee felt a definite fuzziness begin to overtake him and reached with his free hand to massage his brow.
“What's the matter Captain? Aren't you feeling well?” she asked deviously.
Lee furled his brow as his vision blurred; he focused on his plate in front of him and realized that he had been drugged through his food. He tested the cuff weakly as he felt his free hand being maneuvered and restrained in place with another cuff to the chair. Sal then scooted both him and the chair away from the table as Vanessa daintily dabbed her napkin to her mouth before pushing herself from the table.
“It's something I perfected several years ago,” she explained, circling Lee as multiple colors began to flash across his vision. “It's a hallucinogenic which places the subject in a very highly suggestive state. You see, Captain, I can take you back to Seaview when I injected you with the truth serum. Do you remember?” she asked with a grin as Lee reacted immediately to the fiery pain of the brainwash-in-a-hypo racing up his arm. He grunted painfully as his brain replayed the memory with all the physical affects as if it had just happened.
“Do you remember how hard you tried to keep the nuclear codes from me?” she taunted. “Now, let's see, how many injections did I give you?” she continued as Lee reacted to the simulated electric shock the drug produced to deliver a compliant subject.
“Is it painful, Captain? Remember, the first one was a double dose... a full two minutes,” she coaxed as Lee began counting down the pain, just as he had almost three years ago.
By the time the pain subsided his chin hung heavily on his chest, his breathing was ragged, his wrists sore from writhing, and concentrating intensely to keep his secrets safe, as the drug's suggestive properties had him entirely lost in the interrogation as if it were real.
“Now Captain,” she said. “The nuclear codes?” she asked, playacting the interrogation again, even though she had no use for the codes at this point.
He nodded a “No” and put his full effort into concentrating against both the pain and the drug as she leaned into his ear and whispered.
“You're sick Captain, give me the codes and I'll protect them,” replaying her role from the original interrogation as Lee struggled to protect Seaview's nuclear weapons.
She continued with her sick game, taking Lee through all five “virtual” injections before her men carried an unresponsive and unconscious Lee Crane back to his cell. Vanessa Paris threw her head back in an evil laughter, her revenge on Crane only a game to amuse herself until Nelson finally worked through the obscure clues “cleverly” left behind for him.
* * * * *
Harry arrived at the office early once again, his burden heavy as it had now been three days since Lee was abducted and they were still no closer to finding him. No ransom note meant a high probability that the motive was revenge. Evans' information yesterday, combined with the message sent via Speedy for You Courier Service suggested that the abductor wanted Harry to solve the mystery.
He checked in with his office, leafing through messages on his desk and discarding to his in-basket anything that wasn't related to Lee's disappearance then headed to the Conference Room. There he spent the next hour studying the three black chalk boards on rolling wheels, looking for any clue that might break the case open.
“There has to be something missing,” he declared to himself just as the Conference Room door opened and Angie entered with a fresh carafe of coffee.
“Hello Admiral,” she greeted guardedly, her heart as much torn up over the kidnapping as anyone's.
“Good morning Angie,” Harry returned with a forced but sincere smile. “Is that coffee?” he asked as he hadn't even bothered to make any when he came in this morning at 0600.
“Can I get you something from the cafeteria, Sir?” she asked, figuring the Admiral had a nicotine breakfast this morning.
“No thank you, Angie,” he replied, giving his Personal Assistant far more leeway than he'd normally give anyone else fussing over his health. “And don't worry, I had a power breakfast this morning,” he added. “Eggs and bacon,” he declared to her smile and nod of approval. Of course, he had left out the part of chasing the entire breakfast down with an early morning smoke.
“You know Angie, I've studied and thought over all the information so far, and I'm convinced we don't have all the clues yet,” he said, accepting the mug of steaming hot coffee from her.
“I'm sure something will come up, Sir,” she added, her confidence in Harry quite apparent.
Her phone ringing in the outer office was barely audible from the Conference Room, but she picked up on it nonetheless, reaching to answer the phone from the conference table.
“Admiral Nelson's office, Miss Walters speaking.”
“Why yes, has it gone through security protocols? Very well, send it right up,” she hung up the phone, her brown eyes sated in intensity. “Speedy for You has just delivered another package. Security has already scanned it; I'll wait for it in my office.”
Harry nodded and stood to pace; perhaps this was the clue they were waiting for.
* * * * *
Chip took the stairs two at a time, hustling up four flights of stairs in a near run. He had spotted the courier service's van driving away and barely missed the elevator to ride up with the package. He didn't want to wait for the elevator car to return so he took to the steps, getting a hearty early morning workout and reaching Angie's desk just as she reached for the package to take to the Conference Room.
“From Speedy for You?” he asked without a greeting.
“Yes, the Admiral is waiting in the Conference Room.”
“I'll take it,” he offered picking up the medium sized box and following her lead.
Harry abandoned his pacing at their entrance as Chip placed the package on the table.
“Here Sir,” Angie said, offering a pair of scissors to cut the twine binding the package neatly closed.
Harry cut it away; all three realizing the importance of the package which carried no return address and very likely was from the abductor since the same courier service was used. He pulled the lid away from the white, department store type box to find Lee's uniform jacket folded neatly inside with a note on top.
Harry blew a breath out and reached first for the note, reading it out loud.
'Admiral Nelson, only you can save him.
When is the Eiffel Tower the highest?'
“But what does it mean?” Angie asked confused.
Harry rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth thoughtfully. “Chip, check out the jacket,” Harry directed as he took a step toward the chalk board with the least amount of writing, scribbling the abductor's riddle on the board.
“Oh my,” Angie said raising her hand to her mouth and then disappearing into her office without a word.
Harry and Chip both waited, knowing she was up to something as Chip continued searching the jacket. He pulled out Lee's billfold and his business card holder, then shrugged.
“That's it Sir,” he declared just as Angie returned with a manila folder.
She placed it on the table and hastily thumbed through the contents as Harry and Chip gathered round.
“Here Sir,” she said pulling out two brochures that Chip had acquired during his search for clues; one from the courier service, the other from the limo service.
“See Elegant Buggy's logo?” she asked excitedly. “I didn't notice this before, it wasn't important until you got the riddle,” she explained.
Harry leaned over her shoulder as Chip leaned across the table to view the company logo set against a background of three vertical bars colored blue, white and red from left to right.
“The colors of the French flag,” Chip said aloud.
“Yes and this,” she continued, placing the brochure for Speedy for You beside it.
“Of course! Why didn't I think of it before?” Harry declared, slamming both hands down on the table in front of him. “The maître d’ told me he remembered the name of the courier service because they had a picture of the Eiffel Tower on their vans.”
“So Lee's been taken to Paris, France?” Chip asked as Harry turned back to the chalk board, to view the riddle.
“Not necessarily,” Harry cautioned. “Let's start with solving the riddle,” he suggested, operating in pure genius mode. “Angie, I'll need my reference books on France.”
“Yes Sir,” she replied practically running to the Library which housed the Admiral's reference books, encyclopedias and journals.
Harry waited for her return before explaining what he was looking for.
“The Eiffel Tower is so tall that its actual height varies due to thermal expansion. I'll have to look up the exact numbers, but the Tower is physically taller in the summer months,” he explained.
“But what does it mean?” Chip asked.
“I don't know yet, let me gather the pertinent information. In the meanwhile, you two check with the courier service and track down how they got the package.”
“Aye Sir,” they answered in unison as Harry reached for the first book of the pile Angie brought in.
* * * * *
Lee lay curled on his cot shivering under his blanket, and reliving the full effects of his original recovery.
“He's exhausted Admiral. Physically from dealing with the pain, and mentally from resisting the drug,” Jamie told Harry once Seaview had been freed from Jason Paris' hands.
He didn't know how long he'd been sleeping as he woke constantly, though he was utterly done in. He remembered Jamie telling him that her drug had a strong sedative to weaken the victim, countered by stimulants to keep them awake for interrogations, as well as her mixture to produce compliancy.
His eyes fluttered open once again and noticed he wasn't alone, as Vanessa sat next to him with a clip board on her lap taking notes.
“Ah yes, this has been most helpful,” she declared softly, acknowledging his wakefulness. “You denied me my scientific right to monitor your recovery the last time,” she accused. “I would have liked to have recreated the interrogation with the actual drug, but I simply didn't have time to produce another batch,” she explained as she wrote, then put her pencil down and smiled at him.
“At any rate, the hallucinogenic produced a very close facsimile, I dare say.”
“You're a...” Lee started, about ready to use a descriptive word that he didn't usually use to describe a woman.
“Careful Captain,” she warned, then picked up her pencil and wrote once more. “I see you haven't lost your fire,” she said adding the observation to her notes. “Well now, are you ready for something to eat? It will help to pass the remaining effects of the drug through your system,” she suggested as if she actually cared about his well-being.
“No thanks,” Lee answered with a glare.
“Oh come now Captain, you're hardly in a position to defend yourself. If I wanted to drug you again, I could do it easily with the help of Sal,” she reasoned.
That was all well and true, but Lee wasn't in the mood for her brand of hospitality and closed his eyes wearily.
“Very well, but I wouldn't suggest missing out on lunch. An empty stomach may make our next meeting most unpleasant,” she warned, promising another round of experiments as she stood to leave.
Sal removed the chair behind her and the cell door was slammed shut, leaving Lee alone with his sore muscles and clinical exhaustion. He closed his eyes and found himself drifting back to sleep with little transition, despite his recent visitor.
* * * * *
“The jacket was folded neatly with the note sitting on top,” Harry reported to Admiral Johnson.
“A ransom?” Johnson asked sitting forward.
“A riddle,” Harry corrected, reciting the note for his ONI counterpart.
'Admiral Nelson, only you can save him.
When is the Eiffel Tower the highest?'
“Does any of that mean anything to you?” Gerald inquired disgustedly.
Harry rubbed his temple wearily, as he made this call from the Conference Room while waiting for Angie and Chip's report back from the courier service.
“The Eiffel Tower is so tall that its actual height varies in the summer months due to thermal expansion. I'm working through the exact numbers right now, but in the summer the Tower is physically taller than the cooler months,” he explained.
Johnson grunted on the other end of the phone. “Just what in the world is that supposed to mean?” he grumbled.
“I don't know yet, but it's apparent our abductor is playing some sort of game with us,” Harry said, sitting back while tapping his fingers on the table. “So are we dealing with someone with a vendetta against Lee... or me?” he inquired thoughtfully.
“Or both of you?” Gerald added, having a keen eye for details and not one to miss clues.
“Aye,” Harry agreed. “I'll consider what we've got so far.”
“Very well Harry, keep me informed. It sounds like your office there is having better luck ferreting out the clues.”
“I assume because they were meant for me to solve,” Harry supposed out loud.
“Aye, a good assumption,” Gerald agreed. “Good luck Harriman.”
Harry acknowledged then sat forward with his elbows planted on the table in front of him, his hands folded into a point, and thinking through the riddle.
Just what does the height of the Eiffel Tower have to do with Lee's disappearance? he asked himself, racking his brain to solve the mystery.
* * * * *
Harry, Chip and Angie regathered in the Conference Room, awaiting the invoice made out to the shipper of the package as the office staff wouldn't release the information without the manager's approval. The manager was due within the hour as they continued to work through the clues left behind by the abductor.
The riddle was written on the chalk board with notes under it, including the information Harry retrieved regarding the Eiffel Tower, which Angie added neatly as he dictated them.
“The Eiffel Tower stands 320 meters tall, that is 1050 feet, and is the equivalent of an 81 story building,” Harry explained as they brainstormed for possible clues. “Due to thermal expansion the height varies by 15 cm or 5 feet 9 inches due to the increased temperatures. So the answer to the riddle is the tower is physically taller in July and August,” Harry said, solving the riddle.
“But what does it mean, Sir, aside from the fact that today is June 30th?” Chip asked frustrated, as Harry turned back to the chalk board to examine the list of female adversaries. The list had been expanded to include those with a possible vendetta against Harry and a Venn diagram was utilized to display the adversaries that both Harry and Lee had in common. In keeping with Harry's scientific method, all possible adversaries were listed with their current status noted next to them.
“I don't know Chip, but how coincidental is it that one of the most dangerous women we've ever come across was named 'Paris'?”
“But she's dead.”
“I know, I know,” Harry said, pacing along the conference table. “And so is her brother Jason, but perhaps there's a relative out looking for revenge,” he postulated.
“Or maybe even a lover?” Angie added.
“Perhaps... perhaps,” Harry stated, just as the fax machine went into gear, presumably the information they were waiting for from the courier service.
Angie moved quickly, pulling the flimsy, shiny paper off and handing it to the Admiral.
Harry studied it, the shipper's name a not surprising Jane Smith, which Harry recognized as a probable alias and a not so veiled “Jane Doe”.
“Angie, see if you can run down this address when we're through here,” Harry said to her nod.
“But what do we do with this?” Chip asked in frustration. “I mean, what does it mean? Other than a possible coincidence with the name Paris, we're still no closer to finding Lee.”
“I agree with you, Chip. I think the riddle is our biggest clue and consequently, the answer lies in Paris, France,” Harry responded.
“But where? Paris is a big city,” Angie chimed in as Harry rubbed his chin in thought.
“Perhaps we've already been told where,” Harry said looking down at the brochure from Speedy for You. “We start at the Eiffel Tower,” Harry announced evenly. “Chip, ready FS1 for flight.”
“Sir?” Chip asked, wondering if it wouldn't be faster for ONI to contact the local authorities in Paris.
“The note said that I'm the only one who can solve the riddle, I assume that means they want me there.”
“Request permission to tag along, Sir,” Chip asked quickly.
“Negative Chip, I need you here in case this is a dry run. You two help ONI drive the investigation and keep me informed through Communications.”
“Aye Sir,” Chip conceded, “But may I suggest a co-pilot Sir? Chief Sharkey.”
Harry nodded, acquiescing to Chip's protective nature. “Fine Chip, have him meet me at the dock in half an hour in civvies; I'll call Admiral Johnson from the air and brief him there.”
“Aye Sir,” Chip said, taking his leave to make arrangements for both FS1 and Sharkey.
“Very well, and Angie... keep up the good work,” Harry complimented with a nod as it had been her sharp eye that noticed the French connection.
“Thank you Admiral,” she returned graciously, gathering up her papers from the conference table and hoping it would be enough to bring Lee home.
* * * * *
Angie returned to her desk and immediately took up the assignment of running down the address on the package. She reached for her Zip Code Finder and thumbed through until she found the zip code, raising an eyebrow at the Texas zip. Then she followed her finger across the page to the correlating area code. She reached for her phone and dialed the local Operator requesting to be transferred to the Operator of the zip code in question.
“Operator,” the voice on the other end announced once the line connected.
“Yes Operator, I have an address but no name. Could you help me find the listing?”
“Yes ma'am, as long as the number isn't unlisted. The address please?”
Angie recited the address as she heard the keystrokes of the Operator on the other end.
“I have your number; would you like me to connect you?”
“May I have the phone number and listing name first?”
The Operator gave her the requested information as Angie bit her bottom lip at the listing name her reverse look-up had chased down.
“Shall I connect you now?”
“No thank you. I'll make that call later,” she advised, then hung up and sighed heavily before moving into high gear, making another phone call to Communications.
“This is Miss Walters, connect me directly to FS1; authorization code, Priority One...”
* * * * *
“It's confirmed Harriman,” Gerald Johnson said, his voice all business and full of intensity. “The Maximum Federal Women's Penitentiary was the prison where Vanessa Paris was incarcerated,” he said to Harry's pursed lips, as he sat back and rubbed his brow, having given Sharkey the controls of FS1 for the duration of the call. “Your secretary did a bang up job getting that address,” Johnson finished, complimenting Angie's skills.
“Don't get any ideas Gerald,” Harry warned, half-joking but his point well-taken that Angie Walters was off limits to ONI. “We suspected that the name 'Paris' was significant. Now what we need to know is what relative, friend or lover is holding Lee and me responsible for her death.”
“Agreed. I'm giving this high priority; you can be assured that ONI's resources will be looking at it from every angle we can think of,” he assured.
“Thank you Gerald.”
“Now, are you sure you don't want the Paris officials involved?”
“Negative, Chief Sharkey will be my back-up. I think we'd better go in very low-keyed and extremely low-profile so that we don't frighten Lee's captors into acting foolishly,” Harry explained.
“Agreed. Call me when you have something.”
Harry agreed and reached for his throat mic to cut the connection as Sharkey continued to pilot the flying sub. They had just started their flight across the United States and couldn't go supersonic until they hit the Atlantic Ocean, making their trek across the states a four hour journey. Ironically, once they cleared the Eastern Coast by the prescribed distance, they would be cleared for supersonic flight which would enable them to travel at twice the speed of sound and actually arrive in Paris in only two and a half hours, even though it was over eight hundred miles longer in distance. The mental math was a cinch for the Admiral, 6 ½ hours until touch down. With a six hour time difference between New York and Paris, he'd be looking at waiting until the famous Tower opened the following morning at 0930. Angie had already procured the tickets that would be waiting for him at the ticket office; the only thing left to do was to get there.
* * * * *
Lee sat at the dining table with his hands in his lap, studying a dinner plate that looked as if it had been taken straight from a cheap frozen dinner and arranged on his cafeteria tray. He'd been given the opportunity to shower and shave, while also receiving a fresh orange jump suit. The open stalled showers offered no privacy, as Vanessa milked out all the humiliation she could muster into his “prison experience”.
“Oh come now, Captain. You're going to be here for the long haul, you're going to need your strength,” she mentioned casually.
“I guess I don't care for your hospitality,” he responded coolly to her laughter.
“Oh you are much too suspicious,” she purred as she reached over and cut a piece of whatever was passing for meat from his plate and ate it. “There,” she announced. “Satisfied?”
Lee reached for his fork and ate, not knowing how long he would be her prisoner and still looking for an opportunity to escape.
“You'll be happy to know that Admiral Nelson is on his way to his first stop in our little hunt,” she added almost casually.
Lee's head turned instantly. “Hunt?”
“Why yes, didn't I tell you I was sending Admiral Nelson on a Scavenger Hunt of sorts?” she asked before taking another bite from her dinner plate. “He doesn't know the game yet, but that's all part of the test. I have every confidence that he will rise to the occasion and join us on this island soon,” she added almost bubbly.
“Then what?” Lee asked, hoping to get the whole plan.
“I'm afraid I'm not willing to tell all my secrets yet, Captain,” she added with a smile as Lee studied her eyes, wondering if Vanessa Paris had gone over the fine edge from brilliant mind to the insane world of a bonafide Mad Scientist.
* * * * *
Harry and Sharkey were up early and currently having breakfast. They were dressed in civvies, procured from their belongings stowed aboard Seaview before they left Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, they had to wait until the tours began as they sat in the open air cafe just down the street from their hotel.
“What do you think we'll find at the Tower, Sir?” Sharkey asked as Harry sat back in his brown tweed sports jacket and tie over dark brown pants. “I mean, they're not actually holding the Skipper at the Tower are they?”
Harry cracked a small smile.
“Hardly Francis,” Harry said with a soft chuckle. “I expect we've been sent here for another clue,” he continued quite serious and losing his smile completely. “Whoever abducted Crane is playing some sort of game with us,” he surmised as the two spoke quietly to keep their conversation private.
“You mean some relative of that bi... pardon me Sir, that Dr. Paris?”
Harry nodded, taking another sip of his coffee before checking his watch. They were only about a twenty minute walk from the Tower and he wanted to be there when they opened.
“Or perhaps a lover,” Harry added. “At any rate, someone has done a good job of tying the abduction to Dr. Paris; I assume for revenge.”
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey conceded with a nod. “But she had no one to blame but herself; what she did to the Skipper on the Boat and then messing with his memories and all.”
Harry nodded in agreement and checked his watch once again. “Okay, let's start toward the Tower.”
“Do you want me to hail a cab, Sir?” Sharkey asked as they waved for their check.
“No,” Harry replied thoughtfully. “No, whoever is sending us on the hunt has to be watching us; I want them to know we're here.”
“We should have brought Ski and Pat along to case the joint,” Sharkey added, his relationship with the Admiral such that his remarks were welcomed, even if unnecessary this time.
“No Francis. The Eiffel Tower is visited by thousands of people every day, and I seriously doubt the kidnapper is going to show up. More than likely whoever we captured would have no viable information and we would just be putting the Captain in danger. No,” he continued almost thinking out loud at this point. “The best course of action is to take the clues and play the game, at least until we have enough to beat them at their own game.”
“So you think the Skipper is okay? I mean... he's still alive isn't he?” Sharkey asked sheepishly.
Harry nodded and sighed audibly. “I'm counting on it, Francis,” he said, leaving enough cash to cover their breakfast before the two started their walk to the famous Eiffel Tower.
* * * * *
Sal appeared at Lee's cell door holding a gun while another guard waited to apply handcuffs to the prisoner.
“Dr. Paris says to join her for breakfast,” Sal ordered, his large size contrasting with a very noticeable lisp as he spoke.
He nodded for the second guard to proceed with the handcuffs as Lee eyed Sal. There was no opening for an escape as the diligent guard kept his gun trained on him at all times. Likewise, the second guard advanced, never once placing himself in between the gun and Lee. Unable to do anything else, he produced his wrists as the guard slapped the cuffs on once again.
He was escorted to the dining room, but this time was directed to stand several feet from the table. His guards each held an elbow as if anticipating some action on his part as Vanessa entered the room, followed by her brother, Jason Paris. Lee's jaws tightened as he fought to keep his contempt in check as Vanessa took her seat, but Jason ignored the table and instead walked toward him.
“Well, well, well,” he scoffed. “I've waited a long time for this, Captain Crane,” he said darkly before issuing a back hand to Lee's face.
Lee stood firm, not entirely taken by surprise by the greeting and scowled back.
“The last time I was drugged and your goons held my arms,” Lee reminded him. “Now I'm cuffed with new goons for insurance... why don't you release me and try that again,” he challenged, having no love-loss for the man who conspired to hi-jack and sell Seaview with her nukes armed.
“I don't need you drugged or cuffed to take you Crane, but two years in prison didn't make me a fool either,” he replied with a smile before landing a punch in his gut.
He only doubled slightly as the blow hadn't been any more unexpected than the blow to the face.
“Any time you want to try...” Lee started before being interrupted.
“Come, come now boys. Let's not have a testosterone display at the breakfast table,” Vanessa said calmly from her chair as she buttered her toast.
Jason ignored his sister, while continuing to glare at his prisoner.
“Take him back to his cell,” Jason ordered the guards. “Don't think this is over Crane.”
“Oh I'm looking forward to it,” Lee challenged as the guards tugged him out of the room and back down the long hall to his cell.
Jason walked back and took his seat at the table, trying to shake off the encounter.
“If we didn't need him to get to Nelson, he'd be dead,” Jason stated plainly, reaching for his fork.
“Crane is nothing,” Vanessa reminded him. “Nelson is the one we want; just make sure I get him first before you turn him over to your buyers,” she added.
“You just be careful not to do any permanent damage to our meal ticket,” Jason reminded.
“I assure you, with a little rest he'll be ready for whatever primitive means of extraction your buyers have in mind,” she stated coolly, adding a spoonful of marmalade to her toast without the slightest acknowledgement of her evil intent.
* * * * *
Just what they were looking for, they didn't know. Some sort of package perhaps, a note... something the kidnappers might have left as a clue. Harry and Sharkey kept their eyes peeled as they explored the upper floors first, having taken the lift up. If they didn't find what they were looking for, they would continue the search on the stairways down.
Harry took a moment to gaze out onto the city of Paris as they had explored both the Top Floor and the First Floor. The Second Floor offered just as fantastic a view, though that wasn't what was on his mind at present, when a young man approached Harry.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said as Harry turned to his voice.
The young man looked very much like a college student backpacking his way across Europe, his accent clearly giving away an American mid-west accent.
“Yes lad?” Harry responded politely.
“Are you Admiral Nelson?”
Harry nodded, but he really wasn't interested in dealing with a young “fan” at this point, nevertheless he remained cordial.
“Good,” he said relieved, indicating he really didn't know Nelson by his reputation. “A man gave me two hundred bucks to wait thirty minutes and then give you this,” he said handing over a manila envelope to Harry.
“Harry reached for the envelope. And did you? Wait thirty minutes I mean.”
“Are you kidding? For that kind of bread, I followed his instructions to the letter,” he beamed.
“Can you tell me what he looked like?”
“An American, other than that just your regular run-of-the-mill, middle-aged guy,” he replied, demonstrating the fact that he didn't pay any attention to anyone over the age of 25, and certainly not of the opposite sex. “Once he showed me the money, I didn't pay attention to much else,” he admitted.
Harry reached into his pocket, producing a business card and a hundred dollar bill.
“If you do remember more, call this number. My secretary will take the information for me.”
The young man's eyes widened at his extraordinary luck.
“You bet, I'll think real hard on it,” he promised as he waved and headed for the stairs, thinking how far three hundred bucks was going to take him on his European holiday.
“You want me to get his name, Sir?” Sharkey asked, watching him walk away.
“No, I don't think so, Chief. I'm pretty sure that whoever gave him the envelope is a minor player in this game and besides, he's long gone by now. No... the most important thing right now is this,” he said opening the folder to find a typewritten note.
“The Game continues.
Take the next leg from 48, 2 to the only city in Texas
That shares siesta time with Chihuahua.
Find the treasure to find Crane.”
Harry handed the note over to Sharkey and then noticed the bulge at the bottom of the envelope. He reached in and pulled out the familiar black onyx ring always worn on Lee's left hand.
“What do you think Sir?” Sharkey asked reading the note and then eying the Skipper's ring.
“I think we'd better hurry,” Harry said placing the ring into his pocket and hurrying to the lift, his mind working a mile a minute as he processed the latest clue.
Sharkey followed behind dutifully, hoping the Admiral would shed some light soon on just what the cryptic note meant.
* * * * *
A quick run back to the hotel to check-out; a cab to the airport where FS1 was safely ensconced in a rented hangar; and two hours later they were back in the air. In all that time the Admiral had spoken very little as Sharkey got the definite impression he was processing all of it in his mind, almost like a computer.
Once they cleared the continent and climbed to altitude they went supersonic.
“Francis,” Harry said, still flying with both hands on the control sticks. “Feed Paris, France into the Navigator and tell me what you get,” he ordered casually.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey replied, working dutifully without questioning why they were looking up their departure coordinates.
“That's latitude North, 48 degrees, 47 minutes, 24.7878 seconds; longitude East 2 degrees, 22 minutes, 42.7441 seconds, Sir.”
“I suppose to layman North 48 degrees, East 2 degrees would be sufficient?” Harry asked rhetorically.
“Aye Sir, I guess... wait a minute! The note said to start from 48, 2... start from Paris. Right?”
“And so we're headed for Texas,” Sharkey continued, remembering the clue. “Any guesses Sir? I mean Texas is a big state.”
“What else did the note say?” Harry asked, mentoring Sharkey along to the solution he had already come up with.
Sharkey looked down at his clip board and read the note verbatim.
“Take the next leg from 48, 2 to the only city in Texas that shares siesta time with Chihuahua. Find the treasure to find Crane.”
“I don't get it Sir. What does nap time and a little rat dog have to do with anything?”
Harry smiled. “In this case Francis, Chihuahua isn't a dog but a city, a city that happens to be in Mexico. Now the clue tells us that the Texas city we're looking for shares the same siesta time, which is the abductor's way of telling us they're in the same time zone,” Harry explained. “Chihuahua, Mexico is located at Coordinated Universal Time minus six hours, UTC-6 for short...”
“Mountain Time,” Sharkey interrupted.
“Aye, Mountain Time,” Harry repeated. “Did you know the entire state of Texas is located in the Central Time Zone except one county? Any guesses which major Texas city is in the Mountain Time Zone?”
“You got me there, Admiral. I'm from New York and geography was never my best subject,” he admitted.
Harry smiled again, knowing full well Sharkey's only “A” in high school was in Home Ec, Cooking to be exact. His smile faded however, as his countenance turned serious once again.
“Plug El Paso, Texas in and tell me what you get,” Harry advised, returning to solving the clue.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey replied, obeying immediately. “North 31 by West 106 degrees, Sir,” he recited, leaving off the minutes and seconds purposefully. “Does that mean anything to you, Sir?”
“Not at the moment, but I'm sure the coordinates are significant or the abductor wouldn't have made a point to direct us from 48, 2,” he explained. “Technically, there's another small town in the same time zone, but it's actually part of El Paso County. I'll wager El Paso is the right place,” Harry said decisively with a small nod to himself.
“Would you like me to take over Sir, so you can grab a few winks in the rack?” Sharkey asked, not doing too good of a job of hiding his over-protectiveness of the Admiral.
“No I'm fine, Francis; I do some of my best thinking while I fly. You go ahead,” Harry offered with a tilt of his head to the rack behind the pilot's seat.
“That's okay Sir, these chairs are pretty comfortable,” Sharkey replied and then quietly watched the horizon as Admiral Nelson balanced the important task of pilot-in-command with his ability to multi-task; working through every possible scenario to break the clues into a solid lead to find Lee Crane.
* * * * *
Lee had spent the entire day alone in his cell with no visitors, except the breakfast and lunch trays slid under his cell door. He was inclined not to eat for fear of more drugs, but decided against it as Vanessa had already hinted that he would need his strength for her next experiment. He had scoured his cell looking for anything to use as a pick but came up empty. Presently he was sitting with his back against the cell wall working through possible escape options. So far his captors had been very careful, and he didn't need a bullet hole to go with his liberation, so he would need to be ready to seize the first real opportunity afforded him.
He was surprised when dinner time came and received an invitation to the dining room. Again his guards used the utmost security with him as he was cuffed, this time with a chain around his waist, severely limiting his hand movements.
He was escorted to the dining room and placed into a chair away from the table. It was apparent that Jason and Vanessa had already finished eating and he was going to be the floor show.
“You look good in orange, Crane,” Jason sneered as Lee glared at his nemesis, before Vanessa chimed in with her own brand of ridicule.
“You'll be happy to know that Nelson is proceeding in fine fashion and living up to my expectations. Of course, it wouldn't take a genius to unlock the clues I gave him so far, but if he wants to find the next clue he'll have to show some real prowess.”
“What is it that you want from us?” Lee asked.
“You? Absolutely nothing. You're just here as a means to get to Nelson,” Vanessa said, leaving the table and circling Lee. “And of course... amusing us until Nelson arrives,” she finished.
Lee kept his face even, not willing to give either one the satisfaction of any outward sign of trepidation.
“But this isn't just a game to test the Admiral's intellect, is it?” Lee asked, his lone chair in the center of the room reminiscent of an interrogation.
Jason moved from his seat to round the table and leaned against it, directly facing Lee.
“And just what do you think we're up to?” the Paris brother asked patronizingly.
“You tell me,” he shot back to Jason's laughter.
“Why not, Crane? It's not like you're going to be able to do anything about it anyway,” he taunted. “Nelson will net several million dollars to my buyer; it seems he's a wealth of information on more than one secret device currently in use in the military. Every secret they pull out of him will be explicitly exploited,” he said, enjoying watching the twitch in Lee's cheek as his anger burned.
“But not before my sister has first crack at him,” he finished crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Oh not to worry Captain,” he continued as Lee's glare deepened. “She promises not to permanently damage Nelson; after all we do have a buyer for him...”
With that, Lee bolted from his chair, heading straight for Jason. His hands were neutralized, currently tethered to the chain around his waist, so he used his shoulder as a battery ram aiming for and finding Jason Paris' solar plexus. The result was a satisfying cry of pain from Jason, even as Lee was instantly pulled away and held firmly in place by Sal and another guard.
Jason found his breath as Lee peered at him through dark eyes. He took a step forward and issued a punch deep into Lee's side, producing a grunt as Vanessa intervened.
“Enough Jason, don't forget the plan,” she reminded her brother, gently pulling him away.
Lee breathed through the sudden jab but continued his intense glare as Jason broke into laughter. It was a sinister laugh, diabolical if Lee ever could have imagined one to be. There was something about his eyes as Lee could only describe it as “off-balance”.
“Take him back to his cell,” he said with a wave of his hand, turning his back on Lee as he was dragged out of the dining room.
Lee caught a glance over his shoulder as Vanessa consoled Jason with a hand to his back, before shooting her own glare his way. Maybe he had gotten to them both, in that case the blow was worth his sore side, he thought wistfully.
He was deposited back into his cell, but as penance his hands were left tethered to the chain around his waist and no dinner was served. The latter wasn't of much concern, as Lee sat back against the wall pondering the strange look in Jason's eyes and wondering just how he was going to warn Harry in time.
* * * * *
Harry stood at the window of the hotel they were staying at, near the international airport. From the view of his fourth floor veranda he could see the bright, shining night lights of El Paso. It was late, and he really should have been in bed by now, it had been a long flight from Paris, France and he had done most of the flying. Still, he couldn't sleep as he hadn't solved the puzzle of where to go next. He was convinced that the abductors weren't going to surprise him with a package on their doorstep, and that the clues had already been presented as the message given to Evans suggested.
He walked back to the desk and sunk into the chair, looking down at the all the clues and his scribbled notes.
Now the game begins.
Time to see what's in that beautiful mind of yours.
'Admiral Nelson, the game has begun;
The clues are all in place,
Only a brilliant mind can follow them;
But will it be too late?'
Admiral Nelson, only you can save him.
When is the Eiffel Tower the highest?
“The Game continues.
Take the next leg from 48, 2 to the only city in Texas
That shares siesta time with Chihuahua.
Find the treasure to find Crane.”
On another pad he had the Eiffel Tower information scribbled out:
320 meters tall, 1050 feet
Equivalent to an 81 story building
Height varies 15 cm or 5 feet 9 inches
Physically taller in July and August
He stared at the clues again, taking note of the last one, and how they were directed from Paris using the coordinates of North 48 degrees, East 2 degrees; 48, 2... 48, 2... 48, 2...
Harry was just about to give up for the night when he realized something; he fumbled through his notes from his flight bag pulling out his clipboard until he found what he was looking for. His brilliant memory hadn't failed him as he looked down at the coordinates for El Paso, Texas; leaving off the minutes and seconds as his abductors had, he stared down at the coordinates: N 31, W106.
He moved his finger back up the height of the Eiffel Tower and noted the figure of 320 meters tall or 1050 feet and dropped the ending zeroes to arrive at 32 and 105. Harry scribbled new coordinates on a clean sheet of paper and sat back with a sigh; N 32, W 105, the grid located conveniently above their current coordinates of N 31, W 106. He leaned forward and circled the coordinates, noting the abductor had directed them from the grid coordinates of Paris to El Paso by the last clue given, and to the next grid coordinates of the clue by manipulating the Tower's height; he was sure that it was too much to be a coincidence.
He circled the new coordinates three or four times over then dropped his pencil and headed for bed to grab some shut eye. Tomorrow he and Sharkey would begin a grid search to include a roughly 69 by 69 mile target search area. Judging by the vastness of the Texas desert dominating the grid, it was going to prove to be a long day.
* * * * *
The next morning Lee was allowed to shower and shave again. He was surprised when his uniform was returned to him, sans his insignias and as promised, laundered and pressed. Though he was pleased to shed his orange jumpsuit, he had a feeling that the change of clothing meant something; perhaps signaling their planned capture of Harry was near. The thought didn't bring him any comfort as he silently berated himself for not finding a means of escape or at least some way to warn Harry away. As he combed his hair he realized that his warning wouldn't have kept the Admiral away any more than it would have kept him away if their roles were reversed. Still... he had to find a way to warn Harry.
Upon finishing he was escorted to the dining room and this time invited to sit at the table for breakfast, with his right hand cuffed to his chair to ensure his cooperation. Jason hadn't bothered to show up for breakfast, which was fine with Lee as Vanessa sat at the head of the table completely oblivious to his contempt for his meal partner. He raised an eyebrow when the server placed a china plate at his setting instead of the cafeteria tray he had eaten from on all the other meals. Moreover, breakfast was delivered in serving bowls and dished out to each of them, presumably to reassure Lee that his food wasn't drugged this time around. He waited for her to take the first bite and then began eating, as he had been denied dinner the night before.
“You'll be interested to know that Admiral Nelson interpreted his clue grandly and is in El Paso, Texas right now.”
“Yes, after a long flight to Paris, France and back,” she boasted stirring her hot tea.
“You've sent him on a Scavenger Hunt crossing the Atlantic Ocean back?” Lee questioned accusingly.
Vanessa just smiled while Lee silently pondered how Harry was holding up, flying across the Atlantic Ocean twice in as many days.
“What will he find in Texas?” he asked evenly, trying to stay calm and forage whatever information he could get out of her.
“Four thousand, five hundred and fifty-four square miles to search,” she said with an evil twinkle in her eyes.
Lee put his fork down, silently considering what Harry must be going through with him missing and the task of searching nearly 5,000 square miles of desert looking for the next clue.
“Not to worry, Captain. I'm convinced Nelson will break the code, if you will, and interpret the clue correctly,” she said taking a sip of her hot tea and then replacing the cup on the dainty saucer. “Otherwise it will be a long search,” she added with a twisted chuckle.
He didn't take any comfort in her statement, even though he was sure Harry would indeed ferret out every clue she gave him.
“Tell me Captain, what does a standard search pattern look like?” she asked rhetorically, as Lee answered knowing she was going somewhere specific with her question.
“He'll start at the nearest end and proceed to the opposite end of the quadrant. Assuming he's in FS1, he'll be able to make passes with perhaps a mile range, depending how high he flies and just how visible your clue is from the air.”
“Well then,” she said sitting back. “Let's assume I placed the package dead center in the middle of the quadrant?”
“Then it's possible he'll find it between twenty and thirty passes, depending on his altitude and how large your mark is,” Lee responded, already knowing that Dr. Paris was well aware of the procedure.
“Well then, I'd say that Admiral Nelson should have his next clue by lunch time,” she answered gleefully.
Next clue. Lee replayed her words in his head, realizing this wasn't the last leg of the Scavenger Hunt.
“Now Captain, since you're obviously done with breakfast, I suggest we 'up the ante' as they say, and give the Admiral more incentive to find you,” she stated with the same maniacal gleam he had witnessed in Jason's eyes last night, and instantly realized that things were about to take a turn for the worst.
Lee's hand was still cuffed to his chair as Sal closed in on him. Jason took that moment to rejoin the group, walking in with a smirk on his face for what he knew his sister had planned. Sal placed a gun to Lee's head while a second guard removed the cuff then manhandled him to one side of the room where Jason pressed a button as a false paneled wall slid to the side, revealing a large video monitor.
“Are we ready?” Vanessa asked, smoothing her jacket over her matching skirt and primping her hair.
“All set,” Jason answered, making the final adjustments to the monitor as he spoke.
“Wonderful,” Vanessa said, moving in front of the screen as Jason operated the video equipment, counting down silently with his fingers and then pointing to her when he was ready to record.
“Greetings Admiral Nelson. I know you must be surprised to see me, being dead and all,” she teased with a sarcastic smile. “Just a little something I developed some time ago; mimics all the symptoms of Cyanide, including death if the antidote isn't rendered in time,” she continued, always enjoying her impromptu lecture sessions with Nelson. “Captain Crane has been my guest, and as you can see is alive and well,” she said turning and swinging her hand to include Lee in the picture. “Now that you know who is behind this little game, I think it's time we make it more interesting.”
The hold on Lee's arms tightened as he struggled knowing he was about ready to be made a pawn to draw Harry in for the kill.
“No Admiral, it's not me she wants at all!” he shouted. “It's you...”
He was interrupted as Vanessa shoved a hypo straight through his shirt into his bicep, his body reacting immediately in a sick arch. His captors struggled to keep him in place as he convulsed with grunts escaping, growing louder as he struggled to breathe. After about thirty long seconds the convulsions stopped, though his pain evidently did not as beads of sweat rolled down the side of his face.
“Now the game has a real prize. Find Captain Crane in time to administer the antidote. Fail and Crane dies... you have 24 hours to administer the antidote. The clock is ticking, it is now 8:00 am, but of course time is relative so I'll spell it out; Zulu -4,” she finished then moved out of the way so that the camera could focus on Crane's distress before Jason cut the recording.
“I hope this game is worth it,” Jason noted. “We could have grabbed Nelson at the restaurant just as easily.”
“My dear Jason, you have no appreciation for the scientific method,” she returned and then walked to Lee hanging between his two guards. She raised his chin so she could look into his eyes then cupped his jaw in her hand, caressing fondly.
“I'm anxious to get back to my 'work',” Jason complained as Vanessa continued to assess Lee.
“Yes, you're so resilient indeed,” she purred in sick appreciation for her test subject before addressing the guards. “Take him back to his cell,” she finished, turning to leave the room with Jason by her side.
* * * * *
Harry was up bright and early the next morning as he and Sharkey headed to the hangar with coffee to go and a few Danishes the Chief had managed to procure for breakfast. Harry was in a hurry to test his theory; he had already been in touch with the Institute and an early morning call to Admiral Johnson had also been placed as they readied the flying sub for departure.
“Standard search pattern, Sir?” Sharkey asked, holding a scanner in his lap and having already been brought up to speed on their search quadrant.
“Negative Francis,” Harry replied thoughtfully as they cleared the Class B airspace surrounding the El Paso International Airport. “I've been considering the last line of the clue, 'Find the treasure to find Crane,'” he said mindfully. “So we're going to start at the south-west corner of the quadrant and cut a diagonal path straight to the north-east corner, then we'll fly south and repeat our search from the south-east corner.”
“I get it,” Sharkey said with a small smile. “X marks the spot, right Sir?”
Harry nodded and returned Sharkey's smile. “That's right. You know Francis, this whole 'game' the abductor is playing is really nothing more than an elaborate Scavenger Hunt. The abductor has gone to a lot of trouble to create clever clues which are attainable, but only with a great deal of consideration.”
“They sure met their match with you, Sir,” Sharkey chimed in sincerely and nodding in enthusiasm.
“That remains to be seen, but the abductor is either very intelligent or they've gone to a lot of trouble to appear so.”
“Do you still think it might be a relative of that woman, Paris?” Sharkey asked.
“No, ONI says that Jason Paris was her only living relative, until he died that is,” Harry qualified.
“Then maybe Miss Walters was right and it's a lover?”
“Perhaps, ONI is still working that angle,” he replied. “Better get ready, Francis, we're almost at our search quadrant.”
“Aye, aye Sir,” Sharkey replied diligently, determined to help find the Skipper. He raised the Scanner's viewfinder to his eyes; it was heavier than binoculars and required two hands to operate, but greatly increased the view below as well as digitally recorded data for analysis later. With it Sharkey could scan ahead of their path and increase the likelihood for spotting whatever it was they were looking for.
Harry descended to the minimum flight altitude of 500 feet as they began their unorthodox search pattern, bisecting the quadrant into two congruent triangles. They were approaching the epicenter of the quadrant when Sharkey spoke up.
“Contact, Admiral,” he said excitedly, lowering the Scanner and pointing straight ahead. “Just like you said, Sir,” he beamed proudly. “X marks the spot!”
“Indeed,” Harry noted as a bright red “X” was marked in the desert wilderness exactly in the spot his two crisscross passes would have intercepted.
“You were right, Sir,” Sharkey exclaimed, clearly impressed as Harry slowed his approach and descended for a landing, tickled pink that the Admiral was so smart and just itching to get to the apex of the “X” and see what was waiting for them.
* * * * *
Harry and Sharkey exited the flying sub and approached the center of the marker. The “X” was formed by small rocks spray painted red, and each leg ten feet in length to make it visible from the air. In the center of the X was a small box, dug into a small pit and built up around it with rocks to keep it from blowing away in the wind. It had been painted as well, blending the box into the X and making the box indiscernible from the air.
Harry knelt down to liberate the box from its rock fortress as Sharkey assisted, chatting excitedly.
“That was some detective work, Admiral. I mean, it could have taken us all morning if we had stuck with a standard search pattern.”
“Thank you Francis, now let's see what we have here,” Harry said, moving on to the more important matter of opening the box. Inside they found another note as expected and something else; Captain Crane's dolphin insignia. Harry's forehead tightened as he held the insignia then read the clue aloud.
“Time is running out, but I'm feeling generous,
Proceed to N 15, W 81 for your next clue.”
“They sure are putting us through the paces, Sir,” Sharkey said with scowl, noting the next clue's distance from their current position.
Harry nodded, still holding Lee's insignia as he stood and pursed his lips.
“Indeed, and a game that wouldn't have been possible without the flying sub,” he replied, then placed the dolphins into his pocket with Lee's ring and turned back toward FS1.
“Come on, Francis. I don't like the sound of 'Time is running out.'”
* * * * *
They settled into their seats and began the start-up sequence; as each system powered on Sharkey noticed the communication's light blinking insistently.
“Message, Sir,” Sharkey noted.
Harry reached and flipped the switch then attached his throat mic.
“Flying Sub to Nelson Institute, Come in NMIR.”
The response was immediate as the radio came to life, responding almost instantly.
"Flying Sub this is NMIR, please hold Sir for video contact with Mr. Morton.”
Harry raised an eyebrow knowing that the abrupt greeting indicated an important call while he simultaneously switched the video monitor on.
“Admiral,” Chip greeted, his blue eyes piercing in concern as he spoke.
“Go ahead Chip,” Harry replied, recognizing his first officer's worried body language, as even his usually unreadable stoic face indicated all was not well.
“Sir, we were just contacted by Lee's abductors.”
Harry's forehead furled tightly as Chip continued.
“They sent a prerecorded video scrambled through so many satellite relays that we couldn't trace it... and I think you need to see it right away,” he reported urgently.
“Very well, put it through,” Harry replied, bracing himself as the video was cued and then leaned forward at the sight of Dr. Vanessa Paris' face staring back at him.
“Greetings Admiral Nelson. I know you must be surprised to see me, being dead and all.” She paused as Harry noted her smugness, knowing she had caught him by surprise even though the message was prerecorded.
“Just a little something I developed some time ago; mimics all the symptoms of Cyanide, including death if the antidote isn't rendered in time,” she explained as Harry recognized the same professor's lecturer voice she used when explaining the drug she had used on Lee in their first encounter.
“Captain Crane has been my guest, and as you can see is alive and well.” She swept her hand and moved aside to include Lee in the picture. He was being held between two guards and appeared to be unharmed with fire burning in his intense eyes.
“Now that you know who is behind this little game, I think it's time we make it more interesting.”
Lee suddenly became very agitated, as his guards tightened their hold on him.
“No Admiral, it's not me she wants at all!” he shouted while struggling against his captors. “It's you...”
But Lee's final words were interrupted as Harry watched Paris jam a needle into his arm and then witnessed its immediate effect as Lee's body convulsed sickenly, his pain making itself known in uncontrollable grunts and moans. It seemed to go on forever as Harry's jaw clenched, watching helplessly until the pain finally seemed to recede.
“Now the game has a real prize,” Vanessa gloated. “Find Captain Crane in time if you want him to live; you have 24 hours to administer the antidote. The clock is ticking, it is now 8:00 am,” she paused for a moment to let the thought hang and then continued, “but of course time is relative so I'll spell it out... Zulu -4.”
When Dr. Paris was finished she moved out of way so that the camera could focus on Crane's distress before the video went black.
Harry pursed his lips tightly as Chip reappeared on the video phone.
“That's all there is Sir,” he said, almost apologetically.
Harry nodded then found his voice.
“Very well, Chip. We're headed to the next clue; Sharkey will send the particulars. Notify Johnson at ONI that we are pursuing the next clue.”
“Aye Sir. Let me know if there's anything else I can do.”
“Very well. Nelson out,” Harry finished, unable to keep the line open any longer. He needed a moment to compose himself and he was sure Chip understood.
Sharkey seemed to understand as well, as he sat silently awaiting the Admiral's next order. They sat in silence for the next few minutes before Harry spoke.
“Chief, punch the coordinates North 15, West 81 into the Navigator.”
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey answered, glad to have something to do after the awful scene they just witnessed.
“About 200 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, Sir.”
“Very well, radio the coordinates to the Institute, ETA... two hours, thirty-six minutes.”
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey replied efficiently, trying to give the Admiral all the room he needed. He'd been working with the Admiral long enough to know when to chatter and when to keep his trap shut.
* * * * *
Lee woke in his cell feeling like he'd been run over by a freight train... again. As in the drug Vanessa gave him in the restaurant he was unable to move and yet the pain was persistent, like every muscle in his body was cramping and screaming for relief. His eyes took their time to focus as he struggled to bring himself to full awareness when a rustle caught his attention; he fully woke to find Vanessa sitting by his cot again with a clipboard in her lap.
“Hello Captain,” she greeted as if he could find some comfort in her shallow, cold heart.
Lee swallowed hard, but didn't respond, something she totally ignored and continued taking notes as she spoke.
“As you've probably noticed, this is the same drug I gave you at the beginning of our little adventure with one notable difference. I've omitted a counter-drug which makes this dose rather deadly, I'm sure you can feel the difference in the intensity of the pain?” she asked rather benignly.
Lee studied her eyes, finding all the evil that had always been there, but he saw something else; a new instability. She had developed a “tick”; a sudden, repetitive, and uncontrollable twitch of her head to the left which he was sure she was unaware of.
“I'm so looking forward to Nelson's arrival,” she continued studying him, then reached over and caressed the side of his face. Her eyes reflected three different and distinct emotions in successive order; admiration of his strength; hatred of his part in putting her in prison; and contemplation his pain from the clinical point of view. It was unnerving as Lee was sure he was witnessing something anogulous to schizophrenia. He had seen the same eyes of a madman in Jason as well and wondered why both siblings were exhibiting such outward effects.
His body took that moment to render a rather sudden and painful jolt of pain as Vanessa reacted with a deviously mad smile.
“Ahhh,” she breathed out in perverse satisfaction. “You have such a high tolerance for pain, Captain,” she noted when he didn't cry out. “I'd love to explore how far it goes,” she contemplated out loud as she bit the end of her pen. “Perhaps later... after I've explored Nelson's mind.”
“You're certifiably crazy,” Lee said in an airy reply between moans. “Both you and Jason,” he added in what was as much an observation as an insult.
Vanessa smiled and answered calmly, if not benignly.
“Ah but Captain, who is the captive and who is the captor?” As if the question itself would refute his claim to her mental state.
“But something went wrong,” he persisted. “You experimented on yourself, didn't you?” he asked point blank.
Her facial expressions took several more turns, running through distinct and separate emotions before settling back on her clinical “doctor” persona, accompanied with the tick of her head as it twitched from time to time.
“I'd hardly say I experimented,” she admitted. “I fully tested the drug I used to escape from prison, and the fact that I'm here proves it worked,” she added defensively, leaving out the part that she had no use of her unfortunate test subjects in the third world country she had conducted her tests in, and therefore failed to observe their conditions once she packed up and left her seedy laboratory.
“As for my brother; Jason is as much a genius in strategy, planning and ruthlessness as I am in brilliance of mind and scientific achievement. Together we make a worthy foe; together we'll accomplish more than you can imagine, but first,” she stopped to consider her next words then spoke in a decidedly different tone of voice. “But first I have to know.”
“Know what?” Lee breathed out trying to use all the opportunity she was giving him to piece together her plans for Harry.
Her head twitched as her eyes turned decidedly envious.
“I fully expected Nelson to find the micro-chip in time and to attempt a surgery,” she explained oddly referring back to their last meeting when she surgically inserted the chip that blocked Lee's memories. “But I expected you to die on the operating table.” Her head twitched, showing no remorse for the ruthlessness of her last statement. “Each lead connected to your scalp was like a time bomb; Nelson had to disconnect each one perfectly to save your life... I frankly didn't expect it,” she finished and then heaved a sigh with raised shoulders. “I want know if Nelson's genius exceeds my own,” she answered coldly.
“And what if it does?” he asked rhetorically, hoping to get to the heart of her plans.
“Let's just say that I've made the necessary arrangements,” she answered cryptically before pulling out a hypo from her white lab jacket and expelling a squirt of the drug from the top, tapping out the final bubbles with a twisted tight lipped smile.
“Now my dear Captain, what is it they say in poker?” she asked, raising her eyes to the ceiling in mock thought. “That's it! It's time to up the ante,” she said, injecting him again before leaving the cell and slamming the cell door behind her to the sounds of his renewed distress and increased pain.
* * * * *
FS1 approached the north-east coordinates of the quadrant as Harry dissected the quadrant once again. There was nothing but ocean under them as they made the first pass, coming up empty. They proceeded up the quadrant to the north-west corner and began their next pass creating an invisible “X”, but still came up empty.
“She sure didn't make this easy,” Sharkey noted, rubbing his eyes and then refocusing through the Scanner and silently cursing her for not giving exact coordinates instead of quadrants, leaving nearly 5,000 square miles to search.
“Standard search pattern, Sir?” Sharkey asked when they came up empty once again.
“Negative Chief,” Harry replied reaching into his pocket and handing Lee's dolphin insignia over to Sharkey. “I had a hunch we'd come up empty, but I had to be sure first. Dr. Paris is playing a game of wits with us,” he explained. “Now tell me, what does this insignia represent?”
“It denotes the Skipper's submarine service...”
Sharkey stopped mid-sentence as his eyes widened. “We dive Sir?”
“Aye Francis,” Harry responded, making preparations to descend. “Go active on sonar, Chief.”
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey replied, operating sonar from the co-pilot's chair and sending out active pings. “I sure hope her package isn't too small for sonar to pick up,” he replied, thinking out loud.
“We'll dissect the quadrant again, if we come up empty we'll conduct a standard search pattern,” Harry replied.
They continued their search for the next twenty minutes with the sounds of active sonar pinging when they finally heard an echo.
“Contact, Sir!” Sharkey said, stating the obvious as Harry also heard the reflection, raising an eyebrow at the return sound. “It's talking back to us!” Sharkey exclaimed, noting not only the reflective “ping” of their own sonar but a second “ping” indicating their approach was visible to someone else.
Sharkey calculated the range to target and shook his head. “Can't be another sub, Sir; I've got it on hydrophones and it just ain't big enough,” he declared.
“Paris planted a transducer, answering our signal with a specific reply. I'd say she wanted to make sure we found the package.”
“Aye Sir, it looks like it's pretty small,” Sharkey responded as they closed in on their target.
“There it is,” Harry said, looking ahead at a box staked to the ocean floor.
“Do we trust her, Sir? I mean I wouldn't put anything past that Paris woman,” Sharkey said, utilizing all his self-control in his description of Dr. Paris.
“We have no choice if we want to find Captain Crane,” Harry replied, positioning FS1 in place.
“Get ready with the retrieval arms Sharkey.”
“Aye Sir,” he replied, moving to his station to operate the robotic arms.
“Alright, we're in position,” Harry advised as Sharkey operated the retrieval arms remotely, extending them out and grasping the rope tied around the box.
“Got it Sir,” he reported.
“Keep a firm hold, Francis,” Harry advised as he aimed a small laser beam to sever the rope holding the box in place on the stake. The blue laser beam cut the rope cleanly as Sharkey kept his grasp on the box.
“Now pull it in,” Harry ordered, keeping the flying sub trimmed perfectly for the retrieval as he watched the arms retract slowly into its berthing bay.
“She's in, Sir,” Sharkey declared, pleased that he had snagged the box on the first try.
“Good job, Francis. Now, let's see what we've got,” he added, his relief at retrieving the clue tempered by the fact that the clock was ticking on the twenty-four hour deadline to administer an antidote to Lee.
They moved to the deck as Sharkey raised the plate and reached down to pull the package from the compartment below.
“Here you go, Sir,” he said laying it on the deck and then heading to the storage cabinet for tools. It only took a few minutes to open the box as Harry reached in to retrieve the manila envelope inside.
Harry tightened his mouth and reached inside pulling out the next clue along with Lee's silver oak leaf insignia. He perused the note silently then read it out loud.
Here is where we test your brilliance, Admiral Nelson.
You already have the clues to find your final coordinates,
But I'll meet you half-way: Latitude N 15
Find the Longitude before Crane's 24 hours are up.
Dr. Vanessa Paris
“Why that...” Sharkey started, but Harry ignored him heading straight to the Navigator and punching coordinates in. “Do you know where we're going, Sir?” Sharkey asked following Harry and taking the co-pilot's chair.
“First she sent us to Paris, France with the original riddle,” Harry said, explaining as he dropped his clipboard into Sharkey's lap, too busy for pleasantries. Sharkey picked it up, recognizing all the clues they had received thus far, along with the Admiral's notes on the Eiffel Tower.
320 meters tall, 1050 feet
Equivalent to an 81 story building
Height varies 15 cm or 5 feet 9 inches
Physically taller in July and August
“She gave us the quadrant of Paris, France and then led us to El Paso, Texas,” Harry continued. “Where she used the height of the Eiffel Tower in both metric and standard measurements to give us the next quadrant of N 32, W 105.”
Sharkey nodded in acknowledgement as Harry barreled forward, definitely going somewhere specific.
“Then she provided the next quadrant of N 15, W 81. Another fact from the Eiffel Tower,” Harry reminded him, as 81 referred to the tower's height in equivalent high rise floors.
“And the Skipper's dolphins to send us to the bottom,” Sharkey added, getting into the spirit of the hunt.
“Right,” Harry agreed. “Now the last clue; note that she gave us the latitude.”
“N 15 degrees,” Sharkey chimed in.
“Exactly, she re-used the last latitude of N 15; now look here,” Harry said pointing at the clipboard and pointing out all the numbers from the facts about the Eiffel Tower that had been used to make coordinates. “What numbers are left?”
Sharkey's eyes perused the notes and read them back quickly.
“5 feet, 9 inches,” he recited then looked at Harry in question. “But which one is our number? Five or nine?” he asked a bit frustrated.
“Neither,” Harry said pointing to the Navigator. “All these longitudes would put us in Africa. See here? West 5 takes us to Mali; East 5 takes us to Niger. And look here,” he continued in the excitement of the discovery. “If we use the inches we end up in the same places; East 9 in Niger, West 9 in Mali,” he said looking back at Sharkey as if everything that needed to be said had been said.
“I don't get it Sir, how do you know it's none of these coordinates?”
“Because she told us we had 24 hours to find Crane and that 'Time was relative'.”
Sharkey nodded as the lightbulb went on. “Hey yeah! She said it was eight o'clock her time at Zulu -4!” he exclaimed. “Which means...”
“That she has to be in this area,” Harry said, leaning over and drawing an imaginary circle around the latitude of N 15 in conjunction with UTC -4.
“The Caribbean!” Sharkey exclaimed. “But what coordinates did she use?” he said crinkling his brow.
“She combined 5 feet 9 inches to make West 59 degrees,” Harry said, punching the numbers into the Navigator as he spoked.
“Why that bitch! Excuse my French, Sir,” he said quickly, apologizing for swearing out loud but not for the sediment.
“But Sir, the Navigator puts us 150 miles from the nearest charted island,” Sharkey noted.
“There's an island there Francis, or a yacht... something! I'm counting on it,” he said buckling up as Sharkey took his clue to do the same.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey said, adding his confidence in the Admiral's deductive powers as Harry took the dual control sticks in his hands and engaged the engines, utilizing all the power and speed FS1 afforded him: ETA 1 ½ hours at Mach 2.
* * * * *
“The package is in motion,” Jason said, walking into Vanessa's lab. “He's on a direct flight path here.”
Vanessa smiled then chuckled. “Much faster than I expected,” she admitted and then blew a resolved breath out. “Very well, have Sal take Crane to the other side of the island; he's been completely neutralized, he won't be any trouble,” she promised.
Jason smiled as his cheek twitched in its own uncontrollable tick and nodded his order to Sal.
“Yes Boss,” Sal acknowledged, garnering help along the way from another guard before proceeding to the cell.
* * * * *
Lee had managed to curl on his side trying desperately to curb the pain when his cell door opened. He barely opened his eyes before two rough hands pulled him into a stand and maneuvered him to the door. His legs were barely functioning, but not to the point where he could walk on his own as he breathed through renewed bouts of pain at his rough handling.
He was surprised when they bypassed the hall that would have taken him to the dining room, where all his out of cell meetings had taken place, and instead was taken through several turns until the brightness of sunlight touched his face. It was hot outside and he could smell the ocean air; the breeze was refreshing even though it blew warm air across his face. He was placed in a vehicle and wondered about the sudden move.
It finally dawned on him that Harry must be closing in as he tried to rally his strength to be of some use to the Admiral, but even the mental effort drained him of reserves he didn't have. He remembered Vanessa telling him that she had given him a fatal dose in her hypo and figured she hadn't lied. He tried to take note of their route, but his brain was saving his strength for more important vital tasks at present, before he finally gave up and went along for the ride.
About twenty minutes later, he was roused when Sal pulled him out of the vehicle and once again he was dragged along between the two guards, but the smell of the ocean was stronger than before. He heard the sound of gentle waves lapping upon a beach and noticed the sand under his feet as they maneuvered him under a large archway made out of rock, a cave carved by the ocean itself in its never ending dance of advance and retreat against the shoreline.
“This should do it,” Sal said to the other guard as they dropped Seaview's captain on the sand with little regard for his pain, breathing heavily as the movement had stirred the poison throughout his bloodstream once again. Then he felt Sal turn him over and shove something into his shirt pocket, leaving him on his back and vulnerable as the big brute patted his face harshly in mock concern.
“There Crane. Just stay put, your ride will be here soon,” he said in laughter as Lee heard the sound of the guards' footsteps in the sand as they walked away.
In the distance Lee could hear the vehicle as it drove off and realized he had been dumped here as the final leg of Harry's Scavenger Hunt. The thought would have been comforting if not for the fact that his best friend was walking into a trap.
He forced his body to obey, if only slightly, and turned his head to get a fantastic view of the turquoise sea before him. They had dropped him inside a cave, where he wasn't visible in a flyover, but at least he wasn't baking in the sun. He took note of the sun's position and realized it was late afternoon.
A sharp pain seized his body as he instinctively rolled on his side and curled with his back against the sea. He swallowed hard after a few minutes of working through the pain and sighed a tired breath out.
“Harry will be here soon... need to warn him... need to...”
Even thinking drained him as he gave in to his body's demands and allowed himself to drift away from the pain into an uneasy sleep.
* * * * *
“I was wondering, Sir,” Sharkey said as FS1 broached the surface, taking flight in the sky in an instant transition from submarine to aircraft.
“Hmmm?” Harry responded, concentrating on flying and thinking at the same time, but able to divide his attention to converse with Sharkey as well.
“How did Dr. Paris know you would have all those facts and figures Sir? I mean, what if you had missed even one of those figures?”
Harry nodded in understanding before answering. “As a scientist, she knew that I would be accustomed to using metric measurements, but as an American she gambled that I would also convert them to standard measurements,” he answered, taking just a moment to think. “She apparently realized that the equivalent floors were rather obscure and gave us those coordinates, but clearly we were expected to connect the dots for the next clue.”
“It sounds like she was testing just how smart you are, Sir,” Sharkey blurted out.
Harry raised an eyebrow. “I suppose that's exactly what she was doing, Francis,” he said remembering their conversation just last year, after he and Jamie successfully removed the microchip from Lee's forehead. She had all but promised then to discover what was in his “beautiful” mind, as she had put it.
“She's an evil one,” Harry noted more to himself than even to Sharkey and pursed his lips tightly.
“Do you think he's alright, Sir?” Sharkey asked hopefully.
“He'd better be, Francis,” Harry replied darkly as they continued the rest of their flight in silence.
* * * * *
Harry circled the island as Sharkey scanned for signs of a settlement or encampment.
“There Sir,” he said, pointing out a large complex, having already found several small villages on the relatively small Caribbean Island north-west of Barbados.
Harry nodded and started his approach.
“Boy Sir, you sure were right about the island,” Sharkey noted proudly.
“There are numerous small islands that are not on the maps,” Harry noted to Sharkey's knowing nod.
The Admiral brought the flying sub in for a smooth water landing then motored to the dock.
“Take over Chief,” Harry ordered, relinquishing the controls and heading to the supply cabinet.
“Looks like we've got company, Sir,” Sharkey noted as two rather large men were waiting by the dock.
“I figured as much,” Harry said over his shoulder before returning to look out the window himself. He showed Sharkey what he had taken from the cabinet and slid it into his breast pocket behind his cigarettes.
“They've already got one pawn to use against me,” Harry noted, handing Sharkey a sidearm, but noticeably not taking one for himself. “I don't need another; when we find the Captain you are to administer the antidote then proceed directly to the nearest naval installation for medical attention,” Harry ordered, reaching in his pocket for the Skipper's ring and insignias, as Sharkey's face dropped in serious question.
“But Sir... what about you?” he asked, as Harry gave him Lee's possessions and realizing that the Admiral wasn't planning on coming with them.
“She's gone to a lot of trouble to get me here, Francis,” he said in a vague explanation, before patting his breast pocket and adding a small half-smile. “Besides, you know what to do,” he added with a confident hand to Sharkey's shoulder, as the Chief's countenance rose in understanding.
“Aye Sir, I know what to do,” he affirmed.
Harry nodded, then headed to the cargo door, stopping to pull a small device from the bottom of the box they had retrieved from the ocean floor.
“What's that?” Sharkey asked with a furled brow.
“The transducer that answered our sonar,” Harry replied evenly. “It's also been sending a signal and tracking our progress.”
“You mean they knew we were coming?”
“I was counting on it,” Harry said. “But now, I'd rather not let them know where FS1 is,” he explained shrewdly, dropping it in his pant pocket.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey answered as Harry opened the cargo hatch with Sharkey following close behind.
* * * * * *
Harry and Sharkey were met by two men, one rather large. They stood back, noting Sharkey was armed and appearing to give Admiral Nelson the feeling that he was an honored guest.
“Dr. Paris requests the pleasure of your company,” Sal said, his lisp slaughtering littles “s's” throughout his sentence. He turned slightly to reveal that Vanessa had indeed joined the party, standing under an awning out of the late afternoon sun.
“Stay with FS1, Chief,” Harry ordered and then proceeded toward the awning at Sal's invitation as the second guard backed off, giving Sharkey adequate space to guard the vessel.
“Ah, Admiral Nelson,” Vanessa Paris greeted. “You were brilliant, just as I anticipated, but I hadn't thought you would have figured out the last clue quite so readily,” she laughed as if the entire Hunt was a game and not a matter of life or death... Lee's life. “It would have been ever so much more dramatic if you had shown up with just an hour or two to spare. The effects of the drug reach their apex in the last hours, the climax would have been grand,” she finished excitedly.
Harry studied her as she spoke; noting her ruthlessness and depravity had increased since even the last time they had met, if that were even possible.
“You promised an antidote,” Harry replied, cutting to the crux of the matter.
“You mean this?” she said holding a capped hypodermic needle just out of reach.
“My associate is waiting for my return. I don't think you're prepared for the authorities he can bring down on you with one radio call,” Harry threatened.
Vanessa laughed gleefully, enjoying the expected sparring match with the famed Admiral.
“Oh this is just what I expected; you would have never walked into this situation without an ace in the hole,” she said approvingly before her mood took a 180 degree turn in the opposite direction. “As it turns out, I have an ace in the hole as well. Your Scavenger Hunt isn't over yet, Admiral,” she declared with eyes that darkened with her mood.
“By now you realize that Crane was just a means to an end. I won't insult your intelligence and pretend that you weren't my intended goal, so here's the deal,” she said, reaching into her white lab jacket and pulling out a small device; she pressed a button with her thumb as the small pen like device started flashing.
“It's a simple tracking unit, Crane has the receiver,” she explained, holding both the device and the hypo together in one hand. “I propose a trade. You agree to be my guest and your associate finds Crane and saves his life, otherwise...” she said holding the hypo precariously as if ready to drop the needle with the premeasured dose of antidote ready to splatter on the ground between them.
“And the flying sub is free to leave once Crane is retrieved,” Harry bargained.
“Of course,” she answered with a noticeable twitch of the head. “But if you renege on our bargain, I have a set of tests in mind for your precious captain... I might even let you watch,” she warned dangerously.
“That won't be necessary,” Harry countered.
“Then it's agreed,” Vanessa said, smiling proudly at her own self-perceived cleverness. “Sal here will accompany you to the dock with both the tracker and the antidote, once he verifies your intentions he will release them to your associate.”
Harry nodded his understanding and turned toward the dock. None of this was unexpected as he calculated that she wanted something more from him than a game of wits; at this point all he cared about was getting the antidote to Lee, he'd worry about the rest later.
* * * * *
Sharkey watched as the Admiral approached, his body language speaking louder than the words Francis didn't want to hear.
“This man has the antidote for Captain Crane and a tracking unit to locate him. Proceed as ordered,” Harry said, stepping back as Sal stepped forward but withheld the items noticeably.
Sharkey's eyes gave away his great concern, his forehead wrinkled and swallowing hard before nodding.
“Repeat your orders, Chief.”
“I will administer the antidote and high-tail it to the nearest naval installation to obtain medical care for the Captain.”
“Very well, Chief,” Harry said, as Sal handed over the antidote and tracker then turned and walked away with Sal following behind him.
Sharkey didn't delay, dogging the hatch tightly and initiating emergency start-up procedures in an effort to save the Skipper. He only hoped that by the time he picked up the Admiral's trail again he would still be in one piece.
* * * * *
“This way Admiral Nelson,” Vanessa purred, having won the submission of his cooperation by using Crane as her pawn. True, she had to give up her favorite test subject to get to the bigger prize, but she was sure Nelson would be the challenge she craved.
As Harry followed Dr. Paris, he could hear the flying sub take off behind him. He only hoped that the antidote was viable, the thought producing a scowl as he remembered Lee writhing under it effects in the video. He schooled back both his facial expression and his emotions knowing that he was about to engage in an even greater game of wits than the Scavenger Hunt. He needed all his faculties focused squarely upon Vanessa Paris at present. So he left Lee in Sharkey's capable hands and the knowledge that he would soon be in the care of medical professionals.
* * * * *
He was drifting with the pain; riding the endless waves as they seized him then retreated just enough to breathe and gather strength before another wave overtook him once again. The sounds of the ocean played quietly in the background, offering some comfort in between attempts to breathe. It was a mean drug Vanessa Paris had concocted; one that left him virtually immobilized but fully aware of his pain.
His pain had taken him to light sleeps where his active brain dreamt and replayed his first encounter with Vanessa Paris.
He'd been lured to a back office in the restaurant and was immediately seized from behind. He started to struggle before recognizing immediately his captor, John Baxter. John was CIA; an agent he had ran across in the field when Washington's alphabet soups crossed paths unknowingly on the same mission. He had hauled John's abused body out of a cell, liberating him from a very ruthless and dangerous criminal. It was apparent that John was undercover now, so he didn't give away his recognition and continued to struggle. John stayed completely in cover and belted Lee; when he came to he was on a sofa, held down by goons and getting his first injection of Vanessa's brainwash-in-a-hypo drug.
Lee aroused from his sleep as his body spared him a replay of that event. He had lost track of time and couldn't see straight to check his watch, though he knew the sun was setting as long shadows began to cast around him. He was busy managing the ebb and flow of his agony when a familiar sound caught the very recesses of his mind, though he was barely coherent. He heard the sound again and poured every bit of his remaining strength into lifting his head. His limited view afforded him no reward however, as he lowered his head into his arm.
Maybe he had dreamt it, he thought distantly, but for a moment he could have sworn he heard the flying sub...
* * * * *
Sharkey followed the source of his signal to the other side of the island. It was an easy ten minute flight as he circled once to verify his positive contact, and then a second time to look for the best landing zone. He decided upon a water landing and took FS1 out to sea to make an approach, setting down and motoring in at trolling speed before beaching the craft. He released his harness and headed to the back of the sub, stopping to carefully place the antidote in his breast pocket before turning the hatch. Upon exiting he ran straight for the arched cave ahead, where his instruments pin pointed the receiver he'd been tracking. As his eyes searched ahead of him he could make out the Skipper's prone form lying in the sand, and poured on the speed to hurry his approach.
“Skipper!” he called, dropping to his knees and turning Captain Crane over on his back, his efforts met with an airy groan. “Easy there Sir,” he comforted, unbuttoning and rolling up his sleeve as Lee's eyes fluttered open.
“Sharkey?” he asked in a near whisper, as if he didn't know if he was dreaming or not.
“Hold on Sir, I've got the antidote,” he said, readying the needle and then poking the inside if Lee's arm just below the bend of the elbow.
Sharkey injected the full amount of the pre-measured dose and watched for signs that it was working. There was no immediate relief as Sharkey scanned the area, worried that Paris' men might be lurking about.
“Sir if you can move, I think we'd better make it back to the flying sub,” he suggested, not waiting for the Skipper's answer but pulling him into a sitting position, throwing an arm over his shoulder before hauling him to his feet.
He was nearly dead weight as they moved slowly toward the yellow vessel beached ahead. They had a lot of beach to cover, so Sharkey was extremely grateful when the Skipper's legs started moving, helping him along though still a bit clumsily.
“We're almost there, Sir,” he encouraged, glancing sideways to make sure they were still alone.
Captain Crane's labored breathing was mixed with occasional groans checked by his returning awareness, as the walk to the flying sub became decidedly easier with the Skipper's legs becoming obviously stronger under him.
“Okay Sir, step up,” Sharkey said, guiding him into the safety of FS1 and over to a passenger chair in the back of the sub. He quickly dogged the hatch then grabbed a blanket from the storage cabinet to wrap around the Captain's shoulders.
“Okay Sir, I'll get us out to sea and then we'll get you tucked into the bunk...”
“Chief,” Lee interrupted, finding his command voice even though he was spent.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey said, stopping his harried movements at the Captain's insistent voice.
“Where's the Admiral?” Lee asked, clutching the blanket around his neck as his body found an ally in the antidote to battle the effects of the poison.
Sharkey ran a nervous tongue over his bottom lip before answering.
“He uh...,” he paused as Lee raised an eyebrow insisting he continue. “He stayed behind with that Paris woman,” he answered disgustedly and then sighed. “Sir, I've got to get us out to sea, we're vulnerable on the beach.”
“Very well,” Lee said reaching up to rub his temple and then following him over to the co-pilot's seat. He faltered a bit walking as Sharkey caught him and helped him into the right seat.
“Take off, head twenty miles out to sea and submerge,” Lee ordered buckling in.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey replied, thanking heaven that the Skipper was going to be reasonable about his condition. He figured they had the same idea; get somewhere safe, get the Skipper settled, and then check the charts for the nearest base.
Lee continued to clutch the blanket about his shoulders and tilted his head back, closing his eyes while Sharkey maneuvered first to flight and then submerged, putting the flying sub safely on the bottom.
“Okay Sir, let's get you comfortable in the bunk,” he said standing and starting to aid Lee's movements.
“Belay that Chief.”
“But Sir, I've got orders.”
“And just what are your orders?” Lee asked a flustered Sharkey.
“The Admiral was very specific; once I've secured you safely on aboard I'm supposed to head to the nearest naval base and get you medical attention, Sir,” he explained a bit ruffled.
“Chief,” Lee paused a moment before continuing, letting his one word hang in the air indicating a dressing down would follow. “Do you have an affinity for bilge tank inspections?”
“No Sir,” Sharkey answered meekly. “It's just the Admiral...”
“Sharkey... do you really want to obey that order?”
Sharkey's cheek twitched; the Navy in him not sure how to answer, but the good ol' boy in him ready to say it like it was.
“No Sir, I don't.”
“Then why don't we pretend that I'm the Captain and you're the COB, and you take my orders without question,” Lee said with a wink in sarcastic humor, despite his current physical condition.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey chimed in happily, not feeling comfortable leaving the Admiral behind in the first place.
“Very well,” Lee said, rubbing his temple.
Sharkey noticed he was still quite unwell and got up, pulling a bottle of water out from the supply cabinet and handing it to him.
“Thanks,” he replied, drinking gratefully and then continuing. “Both Vanessa and Jason know that this location has been compromised, they'll move the Admiral out as soon as they can.”
“You mean her good for nothing brother is here too?” Sharkey asked surprised, as Jason hadn't revealed himself at the dock.
“Yeah,” Lee replied, a bit out of decorum, but busy thinking through the problem with a recovering body. “We'll need to monitor the airport, try and follow them...”
He was interrupted by a beeping sound and a flashing light as Lee leaned forward.
“The Admiral has a transponder Sir,” Sharkey chimed in. “That's how I was supposed to catch up with him later.”
“They must be on the move,” Lee speculated, his forehead furling at the thought. “I had hoped we could get to him before they moved,” he said almost to himself as he watched the instrument panel tracking the Admiral. “Let's give them some room and then follow from a distance.”
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey replied taking the dual controls as Lee lowered his head wearily, something else the overprotective Chief noticed. “Uh Sir... why don't you take the bunk; you're going to need your strength,” he reasoned to Lee's agreeing nod, surrendering to the fact that he was recovering from a deadly poison and several days of abuse.
He stood with a hand on Sharkey's shoulder. “Radio silence until further orders and whatever you do Chief, don't lose them. Every minute the Admiral spends with her puts him in extreme danger,” he said, offering a small pat to his shoulder in confidence before heading to the rack and hauling himself in, barely making it up on his own. He curled on his side to face the bulkhead, momentarily considering Vanessa's mental state. What he hadn't told Sharkey was that he didn't think Vanessa would wait to get to where she was going before she started in on Harry. That was the last thought he managed before his body gave out, forcing him to rest and regain what Vanessa Paris' poison had stolen from him.
* * * * *
Harry followed Vanessa Paris as they bypassed the complex and headed straight for a limo; as he suspected, the doctor was moving him to another location.
“I do so trust you've enjoyed our little game, Admiral Nelson,” she said as he was settled into the backseat between Sal and another guard, all facing Vanessa. “Oh,” she said through pouty lips, “That seems to terribly formal, don't you think? So I think my dear Admiral, I shall call you Harriman,” she decided without asking for or receiving his consent.
“This is your game,” Harry replied, conceding the point.
“You were marvelous, by the way,” she continued. “Though I would have been disappointed if the outcome would have been any different,” she added. “By now you know that I left plenty of clues to get here, the question was would you arrive in time?”
“And the antidote was real?” Harry asked, needing to know and hoping their current “good” terms would supply the truth.
“But of course; after all I might want to retain the good captain for another set of experiments.”
Harry remained tight lipped with his face even, understanding that the two were engaged in a game of poker, chess and Russian roulette all rolled up into one.
“He's very resilient,” she went on, no doubt attempting to goad him into an emotional outburst. “He handled the pain so gallantly. He would be perfect to test the question on just how much torture the human body can endure before the most valiant of men scream for mercy,” she said with a noticeable twitch of the head, accompanied with a laugh and harboring absolutely no regret for her insane, cruel and evil thoughts.
Harry noticed her twitch but made no outward remark, choosing to keep his observance to himself.
“Now, now Harriman,” she rebuked. “We won't be able to conduct these tests without your full cooperation, unless of course you want me to retain your captain and associate, Sharkey? My men are ready to take them prisoner at this very moment...”
“As I said before,” Harry interrupted. “That won't be necessary.”
Vanessa's smirky half-smile gave away her delight at her current victory over the famed Admiral as she continued.
“I have a thousand questions for you, all quite intelligent. I've so craved intelligent conversation; you have no idea the loneliness when one can't converse with another soul of equal intelligence,” she said with a tilt of the head, obviously placing her own brilliance alongside the Admiral's.
“Must be terrible,” Harry deadpanned.
“Well, you shall change all of that for me,” she replied gleefully. “Oh we're going to have some very intriguing conversations,” she added with another twitch accompanied with strangeness in her eyes that Harry noticed as well.
The limo reached its destination at that point, as Harry was motioned out of the car parked in front of the private jet. His forehead tightened as he recognized Jason Paris standing at the bottom of the steps waiting for them.
“I assume Jason also received the same pseudo-cyanide along with the antidote that afforded your escape?” Harry noted.
“My brother has always been the genius behind the logistics of our plans; it made sense for his “death” to precede my own,” she answered, enjoying filling the Admiral in.
“Now let's not waste any time. We plan to be long gone before your flying submarine can notify the authorities,” she said, sweeping her hand out for Harry to move toward the airplane.
They walked ten feet and stopped at the base of the stairs.
“Welcome to our world, Nelson,” Jason greeted with evil, greedy eyes; lust-filled for both power and money. “Search him.”
Sal stepped forward and patted Harry down, removing his billfold in his back pocket and the transducer he had liberated from the underwater box in his front pocket, handing them both over to Jason.
“Oh pooh!” Vanessa pouted. “I wanted to keep track of the flying submarine.”
“No matter,” Jason answered. “They took off and disappeared over the horizon, looks like your man is following orders,” he added in a mock adulation.
Sal went about the rest of his pat-down pulling out Harry's pack of cigarettes, but failing to pat down his breast pocket after pulling the pack out. He held out the cigarettes to Jason who quickly checked the package and then gave them back to Sal.
“Let him keep them; a condemned man always gets a smoke before he dies,” he laughed.
“Oh don't be so boorish, Jason dear,” Vanessa admonished as Sal handed the smokes back to the prisoner.
Harry took the cigarettes and slid them back into his breast pocket... concealing the transponder that Sal had missed on his pat-down safely behind the package and thinking whimsically.
Who said smoking is bad for your health? he silently quipped. This time it might just save my life, he thought sardonically, careful to keep the ironic joke completely to himself.
He was led up the stairs to the immaculate private jet; obviously decked out for the rich, famous, and self-important criminals seeking to be both. Sal guided him to his seat as Harry buckled in and Vanessa settled in across from him.
“Now Harriman,” she said tenderly, reaching over and caressing his cheek. He didn't pull away, not sure of her game yet as she ran her hand down to his neck and tapped harshly, her darted ring once again doing its job with its drugged tip.
Harry gasped unwillingly, falling back into his chair as the full spectrum of light and colors began to dance around his head.
“Now my dear, dear Harriman,” she repeated. “We'll begin the experiments,” she announced as the private jet rolled down the run-way.
* * * * *
Vanessa sat with her clipboard in her lap explaining her scientific method as the psychedelic lights continued to assault him, along with a distorted vision that skewed faces and objects around him like carnival fun-house mirrors. Likewise, his hearing also distorted as Vanessa's feminine voice morphed into deep baritone sounds, much like an LP record played on the wrong speed. All this was accompanied by an uncomfortable feeling, like he was going to crawl right out of his skin. It added distress to his already taxed brain that was barely holding on to the knowledge of where he was and that he had been drugged.
“Very good, Harriman,” he heard through the tunnel of lights and distorted sounds. “I can see by your eyes that you're still with me,” Vanessa Paris scrutinized while leaning over her new test subject. “Now I'm going to add another drug that will loosen up your mind a little and then we can play a game of Twenty Questions,” she explained as if they were playing a simple child's game.
She rolled up his sleeve and prepared his arm as he cooperated, not by his own will but because of the lack of ability to physically protest at the moment.
“This would be ever so much more fun if you were wearing your uniform,” she casually mentioned. “You are the Admiral you know?” she said sounding far less coherent than Harry who was drugged out at the moment.
“There,” she said reassuredly, rubbing his thigh in comfort. “Is your head starting to clear?” she asked in tenderness completely antithetical to her actions. “Oh I know the colors and lights will still be there but that's the point, to see how well you perform under mental duress,” she explained innocently as Harry silently dealt with the drug. “Harriman, answer me,” she demanded, more insistent this time.
“Yes... I can hear you,” he breathed out.
“Very good. Now remember our bargain,” she instructed as Harry nodded, compliant not by force of the drug but to protect Lee from her little shop of horrors, for he had no doubt she would inflict even greater pain on him to find the answer to her “torture” question.
“Excellent. Let's start with an easy one; the value of Pi, six digits past the decimal if you please.”
Harry breathed in and gathered his thoughts, the answer still available to him, though he fought the distraction of the psychedelic light show playing constantly before his eyes and the fact that his body was still screaming to climb out of his skin.
“Three point one, four... one, five... nine... two,” he answered.
“Good,” she replied without much emotion. “I would have expected you to know and recall that fact easily; it was my baseline question. From this point on the questions become more taxing. For the first round of questions the only variable I've added is the mental duress; it will test your recall of facts that I believe you would have learned at some point. Let's begin; who invented the thermometer?”
“Galileo,” Harry answered, a simple recall for him but one he had to concentrate to retrieve as he attempted to blink away the lights to see straight.
“The Nobel Peace Prize is named after this man. What did he invent and what year?”
Harry focused, he knew the answer; if only the blasted lights wouldn't charge at him threatening to impale him as they whizzed by. Vanessa's “ahem” focused him to answer.
“Alfred Nobel... he invented dynamite in 1866; he saved many lives putting the volatile explosive into a more stable form,” he answered, giving her bonus information despite his distress.
“The most common element found in our universe?”
“Hydrogen,” he answered. “Must we continue?” he asked, still battling her drug-induced psychedelic trip, but she ignored him and continued on.
“The process at which water can work against gravity and move up a narrow tube?”
True to her word she asked Harry twenty questions which he answered handily despite his current distress. She folded her hands on the clipboard now sitting in her lap as Harry studied her, the worst of the drug having finally passed through his system. The lights were now gone, though he still maintained the creepy-crawly feel just under his skin.
“I fail to see the scientific method in your last test, Dr. Paris,” he observed as Sal handed him a bottle of water.
“It was merely a test of recall under duress,” she defended. “Now I gave the same test to Sal here and he spent the first twenty minutes telling me how pretty the lights were,” she mocked even producing a lisp as if the giant of a man wasn't standing right there.
“I still question your methods, for all you know you simply tested attention span and ability to focus,” Harry challenged.
Vanessa laughed at the absurdity of his statement. “You'll have to excuse me Harriman, but I do believe you are attributing brain cells to a brain that is devoid of such things. Sal here has found his place... his purpose, if you will, and it has nothing to do with recalling facts and figures he never learned in the first place.”
“Are you aware that America's arguably most proliferate inventor was relegated to the corner to wear a dunce cap as a child and was told he would amount to nothing?”
“You're speaking of Thomas Edison of course,” she countered, proving she was just as well versed in the story of the famous inventor as the Admiral. “And your point is?”
“Edison was bored and his inattention was misinterpreted as an inability and indeed, a lack of desire to learn. I'm saying you can't judge a book by its cover,” he stated, finding his strength the more the drug wore off. “And I'm also saying that your test didn't prove anything, it was sloppy and not a true scientific test.”
Vanessa tapped her pen on the clipboard, clearly agitated, not taking kindly to the Admiral's assessment of her scientific methods.
“Well now, let's see if my next round of tests changes your opinion. Oh we have plenty of time Harriman, I'm told the flight will take us six hours and I don't intend to waste it.”
She motioned for Sal, who stood behind Harry holding him in place as Vanessa rolled up his sleeve for her modus operandi of using drugs delivered by a hypodermic needle to do her dirty work. Immediately Harry felt the effects of the drug as it raced through his bloodstream.
“This round will test your ability to reason with the variable of pain added,” she announced as she watched Harry's face react to the drug already doing its stated job.
A small grunt escaped resulting in a smile from Dr. Paris.
“Let's begin,” she said calmly, beginning the second round of Twenty Questions. “Now this one is so simple a child could answer it,” she stated. “Imagine you are in a boat in the middle of the sea, suddenly you are surrounded by hungry sharks just waiting to feed on you. How can you put an end to this?”
Harry scoffed despite the rising pain level, evident through the creases in his brow. He'd been lost at sea several times in similar circumstances; he only wished the solution had been as easy back then.
“Are you serious?” he asked incredulously while silently dealing with the pain.
Her raised eyebrow told him she was, as he relented with a resigned blow of the breath.
“Stop imagining,” he replied in answer to her riddle.
Vanessa laughed. “I told you a child could answer it. Now the next questions will be worthy of your intellect, each with the variable of pain increasing,” she added as Harry noted her complete lack of compassion and a strange gleam in her eye that accompanied an increasing number of twitches of the head that she seemed to be completely unaware of.
She proceeded to question him with logic puzzles, some requiring a pad and pencil to solve as he complied, answering and solving each one despite the physical pain her drug inflicted upon him. True to her word the pain had increased incrementally by the latter questions, making his ability to concentrate a much more difficult task. By the time he got to the twentieth question he was having difficulty keeping his moans in, something he thought Vanessa actually delighted in. Thankfully, upon his last question she relinquished further testing for later and allowed Harry to recover unfettered for the duration of the flight.
He was left to suffer through the remains of the drugs as Vanessa moved to another seat to confer with her brother, obviously done “playing” with her current subject... at least for the time being. Harry was able to recline the seat back further than an airline seat and decided he would take the opportunity to rest and recover. Vanessa eluded that they had a six hour flight ahead of them and she had burned up at least two hours with her so-called experiments.
He wasn't impressed with her scientific method, and concluded that she wasn't testing his intellect at all, but rather how well he held up under various distresses. It occurred to him that perhaps she was after something other than delving into his mind for “science sake” and wondered if it was something far more personal. He was still silently dealing with what could only be called a painful interrogation, even though no top secret information was sought, and realized he needed to rest if he were to be ready for what awaited him when they landed. He closed his eyes and fell to an uncomfortable sleep, trying to determine how far a private jet traveling 450 mph with a six hour flight from the Caribbean Island might land them.
* * * * *
Lee slept hard, his body taking command of the rest he needed despite his own plans to wake and check on their progress to wherever they were going. He rolled to his back and expelled a tired, achy groan. His muscles were sore from cramping, but he happily noted that the fiery pain from the poison was absent. The antidote was apparently the real deal; all for Vanessa Paris' gains, he had no doubt about that, but a relief just the same. He felt recovered enough to venture off the rack and turned his head toward the window. It was dark and the lights of an island were visible up ahead; beyond the island a larger land mass was visible on the horizon. He slid off the bunk carefully, testing the strength of his legs under him and gratefully finding them weak but usable. He made his way over to the co-pilot's seat, still clutching the blanket around his shoulders and sunk into the chair.
“How are you doing, Skipper?” Sharkey asked guardedly.
“Better. How long was I out?”
“Over five hours, Sir.”
Lee's brows tightened at the response as he scanned the instruments before him.
“Where are we?”
“That's the African Continent up ahead, Sir, but they landed about an hour ago on that first island up ahead,” he noted, the tiny lights shining brightly in the dark night and easily seen from their altitude.
“I had to give them plenty of room Sir, with FS1's cruising speed we could have overtaken them easily,” Sharkey said, explaining the hour lead the private jet had over them.
“Good thinking,” Lee complimented. “Let's not get too close... do you have a good fix on them?”
“Very well, take us down Chief,” he ordered.
“Uh... Sir?” Sharkey asked sheepishly. “Shouldn't we make contact with the Institute? Mr. Morton must be going crazy by now and the Admiral was keeping ONI in the loop as well,” he explained.
“Negative Chief,” Lee answered resolutely, and then explained when he noted Sharkey’s confusion. “There’s no chance of getting a cease and desist order if no one knows what we’re doing,” he said with a half-smile and a small wink.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey replied with a gleam in his eye, understanding that the Skipper was on a mission to save the Admiral no matter what.
“I’ve got this,” Lee advised, placing his hands on the dual controls sticks to take command.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey acknowledged, relinquishing the controls as Captain Crane dove the flying sub in a fantastic move from sky to sea.
Sharkey sat back, enjoying both the rest from the long flight and the fact that the Skipper was looking more like his old self again. Though the weary lines of a man kidnapped and poisoned still showed on Captain Crane's face, he saw something else; a determination in his eyes and a resolve in his spirit that told Sharkey they wouldn't fail... the Admiral was coming home.
* * * * *
By the time their plane landed, Harry had recovered enough to walk on his own and was allowed a trip to the latrine; while Jason deboarded the plane, smiling deviously and citing matters requiring his immediate attention.
“Well, I see you're no worse for the wear,” Vanessa greeted, as if she were really concerned about his well-being.
“No thanks to you,” Harry replied dryly.
Her smile indicated it was all part of the game as she continued on without remorse. “Oh don't be so drab, Harriman; you performed well. Now, any guesses where we are?” she asked, obviously continuing to play the “Intellect Game”.
“Very well,” Harry replied, wondering just what she was getting out of the continual mind games. “You told me our flight was six hours; assuming you gave me correct information, and the fact that this size private jet typically cruises around 450 miles per hour, more or less,” he qualified. “Then I deduce we have traveled between 2,600 and 2,700 miles. From our previous location that gives us three possible destinations; since I don't think you've taken me back to North America, I think we can eliminate both the US and Canada, that leaves South America or the African coast.”
“And which did you decide?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“We left the island a little before 1900,” he replied. “Six hours later puts us around 0100, but as you said, 'Time is relative,' so by the relative darkness of the night sky with only a waxing crescent moon, I'd say we're UTC 0, or -1; which places us on the eastern seaboard of the African coast around 0500.” he finished brilliantly, knowing she expected him to continue to demonstrate his intellectual prowess.
“Almost,” she replied smugly. “You're right about the time zone, although it's only 0400,” she said with a grin as if she had out-smarted him. “But we're not on the African continent.”
“Then one of the islands several hundred miles west,” Harry countered.
Vanessa laughed, tossing her head back and clearly enjoying the on-going sparring sessions with the Admiral.
“Oh you are so refreshing, Harriman,” she complimented before expelling a deep breath. “Now, I'm anxious to show you my new lab so let's deboard the aircraft, shall we?”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “It's your game, Dr. Paris.”
“It is,” she replied gleefully. “It is indeed.”
* * * * *
Harry was led straight down to a waiting limo; an older model from the late 60’s but well-kept and maintained. They left the private runway and drove straight to a large estate nestled against the background of the island's natural forest. The front of the house was meticulously kept, all visible in the early morning light with plenty of security lights. No security fence surrounded the estate, leaving Harry to wonder if the entire island was private, or just as likely, too remote from the local villages to be of any concern.
“This way Harriman. I'm sure you would like to freshen up before breakfast?”
“Thank you, I would,” he replied, looking forward to not only a shower but the chance to scope things out from the view in his room.
“Very good. Sal if you would be so kind?” she ordered, extending her hospitality, such as it was, as Sal motioned for Harry to precede him up the stairs.
He was led to a nice room facing the front of the house; his room sported a large king sized bed and furnishings to match the opulence of the house. A veranda overlooked the garden at the front of the house and a guard was posted below to make sure he stayed put; still... it was a possibility. A quick trip around the room found nothing of particular use, so he headed to the bathroom for that promised shower.
Upon entering he found a stack of fresh clothes, his size and surprisingly to his particular taste, an indication that he had been adequately cased at some point. He raised an eyebrow in acknowledgement of the fact and decided to take advantage of Vanessa's current hospitality. He was completely aware by his treatment on the plane that her current civility could change at any moment; he might as well take advantage of it for the time being.
He emerged feeling refreshed, as he had suffered under the stress of two different drugs. He was refreshed in mind as well and had the distinct feeling that he was going to need all his facilities while under Vanessa and Jason Paris' care. He still had an ace in the hole and knew that Sharkey would be following, but that wouldn't be for hours as he was ordered to head to a naval station first. And there was always the possibility that ONI would order him to stand down until the proper approvals could be made with the local authorities; either way he would be looking for his own escape options.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts as he opened the door to find Sal waiting for him.
“Dr. Paris requests your presence in the dining room,” he repeated dutifully.
“Very well,” Harry conceded, ready to go round two with Vanessa Paris.
* * * * *
“Good morning, Harriman,” Vanessa greeted, already sitting at the head of an extra-long dining table with seating for twelve.
“Dr. Paris,” he answered civilly, though he was feeling anything but cordial at the moment.
“Please, do have a seat,” she invited. “Jason is busy elsewhere, so it's just us and I do so hate to eat alone.”
Harry took the seat offered him, hoping his continual “participation” and “cooperation” would yield less diligence on his captor's part and afford an opportunity to escape. An appetizing morning meal was placed before him, already served from the kitchen. He was, of course, unaware of Vanessa's earlier poisoning of Lee through his meal and ate heartily, all the while Vanessa engaged him in conversation to distract him from even considering the possibility.
“I have so missed intelligent conversation, Harriman,” she complimented, dabbing her napkin daintily.
“I'm glad you approve. I suppose you wouldn't want to call this kidnapping complete?” he asked with a raised brow and a small tight lipped smile.
Vanessa laughed, tossing her head back in the humor of his request.
“Oh my dear Harriman, how I would love to continue these conversations, but alas, bills must be paid,” she said not so cryptically as she raised an eyebrow, fully anticipating exactly when her drug would begin to take affect.
Harry noticed her countenance change just in time to get the first jolt of the drug, which led to an audible gasp. Sal closed in as Harry stood, knocking his chair over in clumsiness produced by the drug. He wasn't going anywhere however, as his knees buckled and he caught her eyes studying him. She drugged my meal, I should have known, was the last thing he thought before he collapsed in Sal's hold.
Vanessa left her chair, closing the distance to cup Harry's face in her two hands. He was completely unresponsive as Sal kept him upright and Vanessa caressed his face lightly.
“Now to really find out what's inside that beautiful mind of yours,” she said, with a distinct twitch of her head and a wild, unchecked look in her eyes that would have sent chills down Harry's back had he been conscious to witness it.
“Take him to my laboratory, Sal. I'm most anxious to begin,” she instructed, returning to her chair and finishing her fruit.
* * * * *
Lee brought FS1 in as close as possible without exposing her stealth position underwater from the air. He didn't dare do a fly over as the yellow aircraft was a dead giveaway to their presence; instead he honed in on Harry's transponder and hoped that the landing beach was hospitable.
“How about if I check out the beach first, Skipper?” Sharkey bargained. “It hasn't even been seven hours since you got the antidote, Sir.”
Lee pulled the dive cap over his head and snugged it into place.
“Not necessary; I'm feeling fine,” he assured Sharkey as he positioned the face mask on top of his head.
“But Sir, won't you reconsider doing this alone? We could lock out FS1...”
Lee put a hand on Sharkey's shoulder, quieting his protest at once with his expressive eyes as he spoke.
“You're my insurance policy, Chief. If I fail to make contact, then you call in all the big guns you can; every favor you know is owed to the Admiral with as many agencies as Angie can link you up with. Send them in blazing,” he ordered passionately. “But I know with everything in me, that we don't have time for them to organize or debate... I have to get to the Admiral first.”
He paused a moment and quietly sighed as he sat with legs dangling in the moon pool ready to exit via the deck hatch, before letting the Chief in on his suspicions.
“I saw something strange in her eyes, Sharkey; she's always been evil, but there's something new... I think she gone mad.”
He held up a hand to dispel Sharkey's opinion that she was always an evil, mad, witch of a woman.
“It's more than lack of morals, unbridled ambition, or even vengeance... I think it has to do with the drug she used to escape from prison and I think both she and her brother are schizophrenic. If they're not there now, it's where they're headed.” He stopped and sighed again, the next statement almost too painful to vocalize. “Jason has arranged to sell the Admiral for information, but I don't think she's thinking straight... I don't think she'll know when to stop on her experiments.”
Sharkey's face revealed his shock. The fact that she was evil was no surprise, but to realize that she had taken the turn from evil, to evil and bonkers was downright scary. The Skipper knew firsthand what she was capable of, but with the added element of her current mental state they both knew she was capable of far worse. Sharkey nodded his understanding.
“Be ready; if you don't hear from me in two hours then we go to Plan B,” he ordered resolutely, positioning the face mask over his head.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey replied, determined to give Captain Crane his full support.
Lee nodded, positioned his regulator, grabbed his waterproof bag then slid into the moon pool below.
* * * * *
Lee first surfaced to check out his landing zone; he noted a dock to the left and a beach with good coverage down to the right. He submerged without a splash and headed for the beach and the cover it offered. He surfaced once again, checked that it was clear and made a quick advance to the rocks and bushes lining the beach, grateful that black dive suits were standard issue aboard the flying sub.
He crouched low and gathered his strength, the swim had been taxing and the run to cover even more so. He rested a moment, continually checking to see if his arrival had been noted, after a few quiet moments he began divesting himself of his dive gear and back into his uniform, carried in his waterproof bag. He stashed his dive gear in the bushes and checked his sidearm, also standard issue aboard FS1.
Lee pulled out a small device the size of a cigarette box and flipped the switch once, producing a single flash letting Sharkey know he had made it to shore safely. Then perused his surroundings, picking a route that would lead him stealthily to where Vanessa Paris was holding Harry.
* * * * *
Harry woke up groggily on a stainless steel gurney and recognized Dr. Paris right away. She was moving about busily, apparently not aware he was awake yet. He took the opportunity to take stock of himself, noting first his inability to move. Apparently his brain was waking up slower than his body as he soon realized he was strapped down securely by the wrists, ankles, across his thighs, his lower torso and upper chest. He was completely immobilized and he realized that the manner at which she had him strapped down didn't bode well for him.
“Oh, you're awake,” she noticed in an almost a sing-song voice. “Now, as you so noticed, our little games of Scavenger Hunt and Twenty Questions were merely to test your worthiness for a more clinical assessment,” she explained, still smiling as if Harry could truly appreciate her scientific methods. “And I must say, you passed with flying colors, Harriman,” she noted appreciatively.
“What do you intend to do with me?” he asked calmly.
“Investigate how intelligence and reasoning is affected as I stimulate particular areas of your brain. Now this,” she said reaching for an odd silver head piece with leads that extended out of the top and connected to the computers behind her. “This I developed about the same time I devised the microchip I implanted in Crane,” she said turning it in several directions for Harry to see and “admire”.
“I developed it just for you, Harriman,” she said leaning over and running her fingers through his hair, almost fondly. “You have such beautiful auburn locks; I couldn't bear to shave your head for this experiment.”
“I suppose I should thank you,” he returned dryly.
She smiled warmly, unaffected by his obvious sarcasm and proceeded to place a strap over Harry's forehead, snugging it tightly in place. She was unaffected by his grunt as she cinched the strap in place, completely immobilizing his head, then slid the device into place.
“This is one of my greatest inventions,” she touted. “Most people see me primarily as a chemist, but as you well know, I am brilliant in the area of neurosurgery. Who else do you know who could have developed and implanted a microchip so small that the incision left no scar on Captain Crane's head?” she asked rhetorically. “Why I'm decades ahead of the medical profession,” she continued becoming testier as she spoke.
She seemed to catch her sour mood and took a deep breath in, by the time she expelled it she was smiling benignly once again.
“Just what does this contraption do?” Harry asked, hoping its use was merely to monitor brain activity.
Vanessa smiled, never missing an opportunity to take on her lecturer's tone and “teach” the Admiral.
“One set of leads provides the stimuli, the second set of leads records brain activity,” she replied happily.
Stimuli; that was the word that bothered Harry the most.
“What kind of stimuli do you intend?” he asked, watching her from his peripheral vision.
“You know my clientele Harriman. They aren't interested in medical or scientific achievement,” she explained coldly. “I specialize in interrogation techniques.”
“Torture techniques you mean,” Harry interjected.
She shrugged innocently and then continued. “Do you know the value in interrogating a subject without leaving one mark on his body? Taking him through the full pain spectrum and breaking him into submission without leaving clues that he had been questioned?”
“Apparently your desire to not leave a mark is the real reason for your fancy hat,” Harry deduced, knowing it had nothing to do with saving his auburn hair.
“Well yes there's that, but I still can't imagine you bald,” she said leaning over and playing with the hair sticking out from underneath her silver contraption.
“How does intellect play a part in your experiment?” Harry inquired, trying to figure out just what she was doing and why she worked so hard to get to him.
“Merely the scientific method, my dear Harriman. You see I tested the equipment before I even acquired Crane last year, and I've established the parameters for the machine's usage before the brain shuts down and leaves the patient damaged.”
“Oh I monitored each subject very carefully; establishing a threshold where information is retrievable with no lasting effects at a level at which maximum pain is rendered and recall is still available. Then I took them past the threshold... just to see what would happen,” she continued. “One lost his mind, became completely incoherent and rambled on like a lunatic. He couldn't recall the simplest of facts, including his own name; the other two expired, though one lasted much longer than the other.”
“You're insane!” Harry observed.
Vanessa ignored his outburst and continued.
“I need you Harriman, because the subject who went crazy was a certified genius. I need to test whether his intelligence triggered the breakdown or not,” she explained without remorse.
“But you admit you've already established the parameters of your machine's operations,” Harry reasoned. “What do you gain by testing beyond that?”
“Just call it professional curiosity,” she stated blandly to Harry's scoff of disbelief.
“How do you live with yourself?” he asked disgustedly.
Her cheek twitched in a new tick, as her eyes darkened into two deep pools of pure evil before she smiled again.
“Relax Harriman. I'm convinced it was another factor that drove the professor mad. After all, I can't ruin Jason's plans for you afterwards. These tests will merely confirm my hypothesis. Completely scientific,” she boasted.
“You're not a scientist; you're a master torturer!” he accused.
“Let's not be melodramatic, Harriman,” she chided.
“And what about the so-called tests you conducted on the plane?”
“Baseline questions. After you've recovered we'll retake those tests and establish your recall ability, proving that you are still as brilliant as ever,” she smiled.
“You're a sadistic...”
“Careful Harriman,” she interrupted before he could get to the colorful name he had in mind. “Keep in mind that you traded yourself for Crane's safety. I could adjust these controls and test how long he would last at the maximum threshold settings. I hypothesize that he would last a very long time on my table before he expired,” she threatened.
Harry swallowed hard; he was at her mercy at this point and she couldn't be reasoned with. All he could hope was that Sharkey made it back in time before Dr. Paris took the test to its full conclusion. The only consolation he had was that he had spared Lee from the same fate.
“Now... let's begin,” she said with a small eerie smile upturning the sides of her mouth to match the glee of conducting her tests.
In her lab, small grunts were replaced with louder sounds of distress, until Harry released an uncontrollable scream of torment. The sound bellowed throughout her laboratory but was silenced behind the sound proof walls of her torture chamber, as Vanessa Paris began the experiment.
* * * * *
Lee made his way off the beach, toward where he believed Vanessa's compound lie up ahead. He was armed with a portable tracker locked onto Harry's signal. He made sure to stay in the cover of the natural foliage surrounding the airstrip and continued following his signal until he reached a large complex of buildings. There was a large house with several smaller buildings to the side, possibly servant's quarters, a gardener’s shack and one suspicious building which his signal was honing in on; Dr. Paris' laboratory.
He moved along the perimeter of the property, staying within the cover of the forest until he found the best place to leave his concealment in the woods. He sprinted for the door ignoring his own discomfort suffered at the hands of Vanessa Paris, his only goal to find Harry. He opened an outer door and headed a few steps in toward the second door with his sidearm drawn. A small window in the door afforded him a peek inside as he witnessed the silent screams of Harry on a gurney with Vanessa over the top of him. As soon as he opened the door the sounds of Harry's scream became audible in the sound proof room as Vanessa backed off her subject, and pressed a button in the controller held in her hand. Harry's pain was instantly released as he gasped under the restraints while Vanessa held her hand over the control, continuing to threaten Harry as Lee rounded the table with his gun trained on her.
“Back off Vanessa,” he ordered sharply.
“Or what? I'm holding all the cards Crane,” she said displaying the control unit that would add another jolt of excruciating pain to her subject.
“I could shoot you now,” he said darkly as Harry moaned from the table, his breaths almost gurgles trying to hold his composure under the pain inflicted.
“I suppose you could,” she said, pretending to capitulate to Lee's threat, though she still held onto the controls. “You'll be happy to know Harriman,” she said addressing her subject, “that you were an excellent subject. You surpassed the point at which the professor went mad; too bad I won't be able to verify your mental state, but I must be on my way,” she said, suddenly pressing the button and tossing the controls in a corner as she ran toward the door.
Lee only had a split second to make a choice; follow her movements and shoot or run for the controls to stop Harry's pain. It was an easy choice to make as he ignored her and allowed her to escape, running instead for the control unit in the corner. Harry's body struggled under the restraints, trying to arch but held in place by multiple straps as Lee found the controls and turned it off, as he had seen Vanessa do.
Unwanted tears that Harry would never normally shed streamed down his face as Lee hovered over him. The sight at seeing Harry's tortured state almost took him over, but he knew they were far from safe and tucked his concern deep inside. Quickly he unstrapped the restraints, then carefully pulled the contraption off Harry's head as he shivered and gasped, still affected by her experiment.
“Admiral?” Lee called, his voice breaking in concern. “I'm sorry Sir, but I've got to move you. There's only one way out of this building and we'll be trapped if we don't get moving.”
Harry nodded but didn't speak as Lee pulled him from the table and dragged him to his feet. Harry was dead weight as Lee threw his arm over his shoulder and pulled him toward the door. It was apparent they weren't going to get far, so Lee picked Harry up in a fireman's hold and carried him across his shoulders, making his way toward the door. Miraculously the way was clear as Lee exited with one hand holding Harry securely the other with his sidearm drawn. He rounded the corner of the lab to head back into the woods, when a bullet whizzed by. Lee turned and immediately found his target, taking down a guard on their tail. He continued on but knew he couldn't take the route he used getting here with the burden of Harry on his shoulders, and instead headed the opposite direction for the runway. He was in the forest, though not completely hidden as his khaki uniform wasn't the best for blending in. Another shot fired his direction as he adjusted Harry on his shoulders, ignoring the moans in his ear and turned to find his target. Another flash from the muzzle and a shot gone wide identified the shooter's whereabouts as Lee fired; dropping the guard beside the car he was crouching by.
“Hold on Admiral,” he said, not even knowing if Harry was conscious. “I've got an idea,” he finished as he placed Harry on the ground. “I'll be right back,” he promised and sprinted for the car. The guard he shot was nursing a shoulder wound and floundering to find the gun he dropped as Lee closed the distance, kicking the weapon out of his reach, then issuing an upper cut sending him sprawling to the ground.
Lee rounded the car and hopped in the driver's side, finding no keys in the ignition or on the visor above, so he reached under the dash ripping a handful of wires free from their ensconcement and found the two he needed. Quickly he sparked the wires as the car turned over; he put it in gear and drove for Harry's location, spinning the vehicle to place the car in between Harry and harm's way from flying bullets. He jumped out and opened the passenger door, then ran for Harry, still curled on his side. He was incoherent though his eyes were opened as Lee grabbed him and dragged him to the car. By that time, two more guards appeared as Lee made a run for the driver's side. A bullet creased his arm before he managed to get in the car, invoking searing pain but not incapacitating his movements. He slammed the door shut and put the car in gear, racing toward the airstrip, and reaching for his radio.
“Sharkey, this is Crane. I've got the Admiral, land on the airstrip. Now!” he yelled and then placed the radio in his lap as blood tricked down his arm.
Harry's moan caught his attention as he glanced over at the Admiral leaning against the window.
“Hold on Admiral, we're going to get you out of this,” he promised. Harry didn't respond even though his eyes were open, as Lee took a deep breath in fearing the worse.
“Where are you, Sharkey?” he asked out loud just as he noted another car in his rear view mirror, speeding to close the distance.
The airstrip was ahead and his pursuers were closing in, as bullets from the car behind sprayed around them. Just then a beam protruded from the sky, bypassing their car while Lee watched in his rear view mirror as the pursuing car took a direct hit. Two men piled out of the moving car just before it exploded behind him as Sharkey's aim from FS1 had been right on target.
By the time Lee arrived at the airstrip the flying sub had landed, the sleek aircraft sporting STOL capabilities of short take-off and landings, utilizing minimal runway clearance. He spun the car to a stop just as Sharkey opened the side cargo hatch. Lee ran to the passenger side and grabbed Harry, dragging him forward as Sharkey hurried to lend his aid. They placed him in the back passenger seat and buckled him in.
“Is he alright Sir?” Sharkey asked, distressed over Harry's condition.
“I don't know Sharkey,” Lee answered breathing hard. “I just don't know,” he repeated turning and pulling several tape-sized grenades from the supply cabinet.
“Get the Admiral to safety and call ONI in. Once you're airborne make sure the airstrip is unusable. I don't want them getting away,” he ordered headed for the hatch.
“Sir?” Sharkey questioned when it was apparent Lee wasn't coming with them.
“I'm putting an end to this Chief,” he said then jumped out and ran back for the car. Sharkey shook his head worriedly, but dogged the hatch anyway; his duty to the stricken Admiral clear.
Moments later FS1 was airborne and issuing devastating laser beam blasts to the airstrip, rendering it unusable and ensuring the private jet had no way to leave the island.
In his rear view mirror Lee caught a glimpse of FS1 flying to safety as he raced back to the main house for what he determined would be the final showdown with Vanessa and Jason Paris.
* * * * *
As soon as Sharkey cleared the island he made his call to ONI, utilizing Admiral Nelson's personal code already keyed into the radio and before he knew it, was talking to the big brass himself; Admiral Johnson.
“Where the hell are you, Harriman? Your report is long overdue.”
“Uh... this is Chief Sharkey, Sir,” Sharkey answered identifying himself sheepishly.
“Chief,” Johnson greeted all business. “What's going on and where's Nelson and Crane?”
“We found Captain Crane, Sir, he was poisoned. Admiral Nelson... he uh... traded himself for the antidote.”
Johnson's airy huff on the other side of the phone line gave away his opinion of Harry's decision.
“Go on, Chief,” he urged.
“The Skipper, I mean Captain Crane, he had me follow the Admiral's transponder and we ended up on an island just off the coast of Africa.”
“Africa?” Johnson shouted. “The last I heard you were leaving Texas for Nicaragua.”
“Yes Sir, and from there a Caribbean Island northwest of Barbados; that's where the Admiral caught up with that Paris woman and I found Captain Crane.”
“And you're just now reporting?”
“Yes Sir. The Captain ordered radio silence, Sir. Anyway, Captain Crane infiltrated the island and found the Admiral. I've got him Sir, but he's in a bad way, and the Skipper, I mean Captain Crane, ordered me to call in ONI.”
“And just where is Crane now?”
Sharkey swallowed hard. “He uh... went back for Paris and her brother. The airstrip has been rendered unusable, and we didn't see a boat on the dock. He intends to make sure they don't get away, Sir.”
Johnson sighed heavily. “Very well Chief. My aide will provide you with coordinates to the nearest US Aircraft Carrier in the region. You will land and you will not deviate from those orders under any circumstances. Is that perfectly and succinctly clear?”
“Aye Sir. Perfectly clear, Sir.”
“Very well, hold this line for the coordinates.”
Sharkey blew a breath out having survived the encounter with a royally ticked off flag officer; then looked over his shoulder at an unconscious Admiral Nelson.
“Just hold on, Sir, we're almost there,” he said before the aide greeted him, relaying his landing coordinates.
* * * * *
Lee sped back toward the house, half-surprised not to be met with resistance at this point. He passed the car that Sharkey had taken out, still in flames with one guard dragging the other toward the woods. It looked like they had had enough and were heading back to their home village rather than get shot at with lasers from the sky.
It dawned on Lee that Jason and Vanessa weren't as organized as they were before and perhaps less guarded here on an island they deemed to be safe from US authorities. He hoped that was the case as he drove straight for the main house, pulling to a screeching stop. There was no boat at the dock and it would take time to call in a chopper, so there was a good chance he could still get to Vanessa, though he noted he hadn't seen Jason yet.
He pressed his back against the wall beside the door and jiggled the handle, half-expecting a shotgun blast where his head would normally be when opening a door, but all was quiet. He figured the jig was up with the runway in shambles and a burning car on the front lawn and decided to dispense of the quiet entry. He turned the handle, then quickly kicked the door in with his weapon held in both hands searching for targets. The foyer was empty as he made his way into the pallor; for a moment he thought the slippery pair had gotten away from him when he heard a service bell ring in an adjacent room.
He moved for the safety of a wall and pressed against it before listening inside to the surprisingly quiet, normal sounds of pleasant conversation at the dining table. It seemed rather odd given that he had just liberated their star prisoner from right under their noses. There was nothing to do but confront them, so he took a deep breath and burst in the room to find Vanessa at the head of the table once again with Jason sitting adjacent her.
“You see Jason?” she said nonchalantly reaching for her glass. “I told you he'd come to us.”
Jason stared across the table, his eyes full of hatred as he looked at Lee.
“And so he did,” Jason answered coolly.
* * * * *
Sharkey brought FS1 in for a landing on the Carrier deck, he was fully checked out in the flying sub but a runway that pitched and rolled took all his concentration. Nonetheless, he landed perfectly and sighed as he shut down the systems. Quickly he unharnessed and opened the cargo hatch to a medical team ready to take charge of their patient.
“Any idea what happened to him?” the corpsman asked, not finding any wounds other than burns across his wrists indicative of struggling against restraints.
“None, he hasn't moved since Captain Crane brought him in,” Sharkey reported worriedly as they carried Harry out and placed him on a stretcher.
Sharkey ran a concerned hand across his mouth then straightened to attention and popped off a salute to the Lt. Commander approaching him.
“The Skipper would like a word with you.”
“Aye Sir,” he said looking back at the flying sub longingly and following the Commander. He really wanted to get back to the island and give Captain Crane a hand with that Paris woman.
He was escorted to the Bridge to meet Captain Reynolds. Sharkey snapped off a salute and reported as ordered.
“At ease, Chief,” Captain Reynolds replied. “I've been briefed by Admiral Johnson, he's ready to send a special ops team in, are you up to transport them back to the island?” he asked unaware if Sharkey himself had been injured.
“Aye Sir,” Sharkey answered heartily.
“Very well, coordinate with Commander Eaton for capacity of men and equipment. Admiral Johnson tells me that yellow bird of yours can deliver a Team in less than an hour?”
“Aye Sir, the runway was destroyed but we can water land near the dock, possibly on the lawn if it's clear of obstructions,” he reported.
“Very well, let's get you and a Team underway then.”
Sharkey 'Aye Sir'd' and fired off another salute, happy to be back in the fray if only as a ferry pilot. He hated to leave the Admiral alone, but he knew he was in good hands as he followed the Commander to another room for a quick briefing.
* * * * *
Sickbay was all a buzz as every available doctor, nurse and corpsman was busy taking care of the flag rank officer. News quickly spread that the famed Admiral Nelson had been captured and possibly tortured. A collective sigh was uttered as Harry's shirt was parted to reveal strap sized red marks across his torso, more were found across his chest and at his ankles. A swear word or two escaped as the doctor examined his patient for wounds finding none, but noting a red mark still visible across his forehead where he surmised a strap had held him in place.
“Let's draw blood and begin intravenous fluids,” he ordered quietly, suspecting drugs had been utilized as he hadn't found any wounds to treat. All he could do at this point was to wait for the blood tests to return and make the Admiral as comfortable as possible.
* * * * *
“Where's Sal?” Lee asked, knowing he wouldn't be far.
“Could be anywhere,” Jason answered with a warped smile.
“Call him,” Lee ordered, keeping the pair covered with his sidearm.
“Sal!” Jason called mockingly, leaning back into his chair with a smirk. When Sal didn't come he shrugged his shoulders in a There-you-see? move and stared back at Lee.
“Fine,” Lee said, realizing that Sal was the wild card in this game but unable to do anything about it just yet.
“What now?” Jason asked.
“I would like nothing more than to rid the world of the both of you,” Lee stated darkly. “So unless you're ready to die, I suggest you both stay right where you are while we wait for my friends to arrive.”
Neither one seemed to be too impressed, and Lee couldn't blame them. They had managed to escape high security prisons twice before. As much as he would have liked to have ended both their existences and their threat to mankind, he resisted the urge to play judge and jury and instead remained true to his principles, keeping them under guard. He also needed Vanessa Paris alive for another reason; he was concerned at Harry's lack of response during the rescue and needed to know just what she had subjected him to; something he intended to find out as they waited for ONI to show up.
“You look tired, Captain Crane,” Vanessa noted as if she really cared. “Please join us; I'm quite sure you haven't nearly recovered from our little game earlier.”
“I'm fine right here,” he assured her.
“Ah, but you're curious about the experiment the Admiral and I conducted together?”
“You mean the torture session I witnessed,” Lee corrected.
Vanessa rolled her eyes. “Really Captain, don't be so melodramatic. As I assured Jason, he'll recover soon enough, I'm quite sure that he will not suffer the same fate as the professor,” she stated blandly.
“Professor?” Lee questioned.
“Harriman can tell you all about it when he wakes,” she said with a dismissive hand.
“We have time; why don't you tell me?” Lee replied darkly.
Vanessa smiled shrewdly. “Let's just say that not all my subjects came out with their brilliant minds intact.”
Lee swallowed hard, tightening his hold on the gun in response to her last words.
“You'd better hope for your sake that isn't the case,” he warned.
Vanessa's head twitched, along with her left cheek. “I would think you'd have other things to worry about Captain Crane,” she said in a not so veiled threat. “You see, with the Admiral gone we had to make a new deal to pay for all our trouble.”
Lee's brow tightened and his eyes darkened at her threat, knowing exactly where she was headed.
“Jason was as brilliant as ever and it seems our buyers are willing to take you for consolation,” she finished.
Lee cocked an eyebrow up in question. “May I remind you who's holding the gun?”
“The gun, yes, but I'm afraid we hold all the cards... don't we Jason?” she asked smiling deviously.
Lee had the sinking feeling that everything was about to hit the fan, but kept his aim sure and steady. As long as he kept them in his cross-hairs they wouldn't try anything; he was sure that their sense of self-preservation was strong, even though he questioned their literal sanity at this point. Besides, he was confident that Johnson would have him covered soon; he was counting on it.
“Haven't you wondered where Jason has been? I'm sure you've noted his absence on several occasions,” she goaded.
Yeah the thought had crossed his mind, but at the time he was reliving one of the most painful interrogations he had ever been subjected to, and that was sandwiched between being drugged and kidnapped and just before being nearly fatally poisoned.
Vanessa's smile morphed to an evil grin as she spoke her next words. “Jason dear, why don't you show Captain Crane just what has kept you so busy these last few days.”
Lee witnessed the same transformation in Jason's eyes that he'd seen in Vanessa's face; the one that said they were more than criminals… they were stark raving mad.
“Sal!” he yelled over his shoulder, as Lee tightened his grip waiting for the big brute to make his appearance. “Bring our guest in,” he finished as Lee's mind raced wondering what “guest” they could possibly be talking about. The approaching steps from the servant's hall warned him of Sal's arrival, as Lee's countenance physically fell at the sight before him.
CIA Agent John Baxter was dragged in like a sack of potatoes, his legs dragging useless behind him as Sal held onto him with one hand, the other holding a gun to John's head.
Lee moved into a position to watch all three, the tape grenade in his pocket of little use now that John was on their side of the table.
“You sadistic bastard,” Lee accused making eye contact with Jason, as John's injuries indicated he had been tortured by several means. His face was a black and blue mess from a beating and the fact that he was shirtless revealed a torso filled not only with the signs of the same brutal beating, but burn marks indicating electric shock treatment. Along with that, he noted multiple injuries with blood running down them as Lee surmised Jason had resorted to the knife.
“He was a traitor!” Jason yelled back standing now, as Lee honed in on him stopping his movements. “He infiltrated my organization, gained my trust and used it against me. I've given him exactly what a traitor deserves,” he declared.
Lee's eyes diverted quickly to assess his friend making brief eye contact with John.
“And like I told you before,” Jason said, his tone taking on a victorious ring as he knew Lee was affected by John's condition. “My sister has her methods... and I have mine,” he said in a repeat of the exact words he had used just before he tried to beat the nuclear codes out of Lee three years ago.
“Back away from him Sal or I put a hole through your boss's forehead,” Lee threatened.
“Oh but he has different orders,” Jason interjected as Sal immediately cocked the pistol against John's head.
“He's going to kill me no matter what, Lee,” John blurted out. “Take the shot...” the rest of his words were silenced as Sal cruelly pushed the gun deeper against his temple.
Lee knew they were in a no-win situation; if he put his gun down they would both pay the price, but if he took out Jason then John was a dead man. They only had one chance, and it had to be a perfect shot. Lee scanned all three players before him; Sal ready to pull the trigger and blow John's brains out; Jason smirking in victory even though the gun was currently trained on him; and Vanessa strangely ignoring the entire exchange and reaching for her goblet as if someone wasn’t about ready to die.
He sighed, feigning capitulation while Jason laughed, watching Lee's eyes lower from his target while his hand lowered ever so slightly giving Paris the impression he was surrendering. Suddenly, in lightening quick reflexes he quickly found his new target and fired twice, placing one bullet behind the other on Sal's forehead. The huge man's eyes went wide, the shot to the brain preventing him from pulling the trigger as he fell backwards, dead. Unfortunately, Jason used that opportunity to flank him, diving and throwing Lee to the ground as the gun slid across the marbled tile floor.
They rolled end over end, exchanging punches at close range as their respective grunts filled the room.
“Stop it!” Vanessa yelled, the sight of Sal's bloody face shocking her out of her disinterest. Things were spiraling out of control and she knew she had to act fast. She spotted John Baxter trying to crawl to the gun still held tightly in Sal's grasp and closed the distance, issuing a devastating kick into his already injured torso. John cried out in pain, his rib breaking adding to a misery he had never before experienced as she pried the gun out of Sal's hand.
“Stop it!” she yelled at the men engaged in mortal combat on the dining room floor; her screams unheeded as each man concentrated on getting the upper hand.
* * * * *
Lee rolled over on Jason issuing a strong right to the jaw but his hold was precarious; nearly a week of mistreatment and too many drugs working themselves out of his system left him in a weakened condition as Jason brought a leg up from under Lee and kicked him across the floor. Despite Lee's weakness, helped along with a bullet crease to his left arm, he had managed to issue some crushing blows to his adversary, leaving Jason shaken as he was himself suffering from a debilitating illness brought on by the very drug that had freed both himself and Vanessa. He was deteriorating both mentally and physically; but even as his physical state weakened it was countered by the unexplainable strength of a madman as his body diverted all his energy to the combat. The more violent the attack, the stronger he seemed to become as both men found their footing. He advanced on Lee issuing three successive blows, Lee was only able to block one as the other two found a solid mark on his jaw causing him to stumble backwards.
They could hear the screams of Vanessa to stop but neither man was willing to let go of their adversary. This was a fight to the death; Lee knew it, for Jason was like a madman driven to destroy him, and losing sight of the fact that he had promised the Captain to a buyer interested in the secrets he carried in his head. Jason issued two more blows, this time to Lee's mid-section then cornered him against the wall, ready to go in for the kill.
* * * * *
“Stop it!” Vanessa yelled once again, battling physical weakness as well as mentally off-balanced. Jason had taken the cyanide-pseudo drug three months earlier than she had, but her mental condition was fast approaching his as she had failed to adjust the formula for her small frame; a miscalculation on her part that she was unaware of and one that the antidote didn't compensate for.
The sound of the fight before her tore at her senses; it was confusing and tearing away what little shred of her right mind she still possessed. She stood with Sal's gun firmly in her hands, while John was at her feet, his head tossing attempting to rouse himself to consciousness. She wrapped both hands around the gun and trained her gun on the fight. Jason was winning; she only needed to make sure Crane didn't get away. Suddenly Crane rallied and fought back, then somehow the two were inseparable, locked in each other's hold trying to get the upper hand. She followed Crane with her weapon, losing her ability to think straight as the drug ate away at her reasoning, while the confusion of the moment sealed her decision. They turned around several times, with Crane moving in and out of her aim until she had a clear shot. Her fear took over; Sal was dead, there was no one left to protect her. Crane had to die; Jason was all she had left. She squeezed the trigger as the shot brought the struggle to an instant and final end.
* * * * *
The two men wrestled furiously for the upper hand; Lee's strength was waning, but to lose would be to sentence both himself and John to death... he couldn’t give up. They turned several times, trading positions as each tried to choke the other into submission. Lee's back was toward Vanessa when he heard her scream again, but ignored her insistent order. The two turned once again, just as a shot rang out.
Jason fell against Lee, slamming him hard into the wall. His hands were still wrapped around Lee's throat as he stared at him eye to eye, just before his grip loosened and blood gurgled out of his mouth, collapsing on the floor before him.
“Jason!” Vanessa screamed in utter panic, realizing she had just shot her own brother. She aimed again as Lee ducked for the cover of the table. Her shot was ineffectual, but she didn’t care as she ran toward Jason sobbing.
“Jason?” she called in an eerie child-like voice. “You can't leave me Jason, you promised you'd never leave me,” she said shaking him, trying to rouse him as if he were sleeping, but her shot to his back had cause irreparable damage as blood spewed from his nose, mouth, and ear. A raspy exhalation left his body as Jason expelled his last breath of life, while Vanessa sat on the floor next to him rocking back and forth, lost in her own world.
Lee took advantage of her present state and shakily made his way over to the gun he had dropped earlier, picking it up to deal with Vanessa even before checking on John.
“Drop the gun, Vanessa,” he ordered quietly, her child-like hums the only sounds in the room.
“He said he'd never leave me,” she repeated as the twitch in her head became more pronounced.
Lee took a deep breath in, reining in his adrenalin and speaking calmly.
“Put down the gun, Vanessa,” he said, a little more gently this time trying to reach her. “It's over now.” He didn't feel sorry for her or Jason; she had tortured Harry, perhaps to the point of no return while Jason sadistically tortured John with beatings, shock and the knife. They had both proven their ability to torture three years ago and he gave no credit to the cyanide drug for their ability to inflict pain. Still, he was talking to a child now, not the grown woman who had done her fair share of inflicting pain on him with her endless hypos.
“Vanessa, it's over,” he repeated, never lowering his weapon as he heard John moan, possibly awakening to his left. He ignored the CIA Agent for now and concentrated on the weapon still in her hand.
“We had an agreement,” she said, her voice changing instantly from the child's voice back to a full-grown woman and finding the aura of her usual self-important, superior tone. She dropped the gun to the floor next to Jason's hand as she continued. “I'm sorry Jason,” she said as she wrapped his hand around the gun and then covered both with her hand.
“No Vanessa!” Lee yelled running across the room, understanding instantly her intent as she leaned over the gun and pulled the trigger; the close range shot sending a spurt of blood out her back before she collapsed on top of her brother.
Lee lowered his weapon and drew the back of his hand across his mouth. He approached her carefully, but he knew there was no way she could have survived. Carefully, he pulled the gun out their shared grasps and felt for both of their pulses. Despite the tragedy of watching someone self-destruct and take their own life, he couldn't bring himself to feel sorry for her; the visual of Harry's silent screams on the gurney was still too fresh in his mind.
He hobbled over to John, shaken by the event and physically spent, dropping to his knees beside him.
“Are they dead?” John asked, rolling to his back and swallowing hard in pain.
“Yeah,” Lee said sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall with a protective hand on John's shoulder. “She killed him... and then he killed her,” he said cryptically leaning his head back and listening to the familiar sound of FS1's engines circling overhead. His shirt sleeve was bloodied, his face showing signs of his recent battle, and his body rebelling against days of painful drugs forcing him to rest and wait it out.
“They were dead a long time ago,” John breathed out, referring to the absolute lack of humanity in the pair.
Lee nodded in agreement. “John,” he said wearily listening to the front door being kicked in, no doubt by special ops.
“Yeah,” the CIA Agent answered with a moan.
“We've got to stop meeting like this,” Lee quipped with a small chuckle as they both laughed incoherently.
Just then the door burst open as the welcome sight of Navy SEALS flooded the room. Lee dropped his weapon and identified himself.
“Commander Lee B. Crane, SSRN Seaview,” he said, “and this is Special Agent John Baxter, CIA,” he continued. “I think he needs a Band-Aid,” he deadpanned as John laughed beside him... it was either that or cry, 'cause to say he was in pain was the understatement of the year.
“Easy there, Sirs,” the SEAL Commander comforted while reaching for the radio on his sleeve. “This is Charlie One; we have Commander Crane secured, plus one. Looks like we've got a two for one rescue here,” he jested to his team members. “Secure the perimeter, we've got two 'stretchers',” he continued.
“Belay that Lieutenant,” Lee said, perking up. “One stretcher, one walking.”
“Aye Sir. Correction; one stretcher, one walking wounded,” he amended with a small smile and a nod.
* * * * *
Despite his desire to fly back in FS1, Johnson had other ideas as Lee boarded the helicopter with John and the corpsman. John was strapped to a stretcher and mercifully unconscious with the aid of pain meds. His wounds had been field treated and he was wrapped like a cocoon, finally safe from the vengeance of Jason Paris.
A mop up crew had been left behind as Lee left instructions to retrieve all of Dr. Paris' notes they could lay their hands on. He didn't relish anyone reading the detailed notes she took concerning his treatment at her hands, but he was far more concerned with what they could learn about what she had done to Harry. A pile of those notes sat in a box at his feet as he silently prayed they wouldn't be needed. He was still haunted by her admission that not all of her subjects had survived with their minds intact. He had no idea what Harry's current condition was, indeed the picture of his torture seemed to be forever etched into his memory. How he wished he could have somehow kept Harry out of her clutches... spared him somehow from her intended pain.
He strapped in and placed the earphones on, as the helicopter noises diminished slightly with the hearing protection.
“What's our ETA?” he yelled over the chopper blades' thunderous roar.
“Two hours, Sir,” the crewman replied, just as loud.
“Wake me when we get there,” Lee said, leaning back against the bulkhead and closing his eyes wearily. He was too tired to think anymore and hoped the short rest would be enough. There would be a lot of questions ONI would want answered once he landed, and he desperately needed to see that the Admiral was alright... Navy Carrier or no, he was going to be by his bedside when he woke up.
* * * * *
Lee roused immediately to the crewman's call and nodded his thanks, reaching for his arm; at least it wasn't bleeding and was now wrapped in a bandage. He resisted cradling his sore side, not wanting to bring any more attention to his physical condition than necessary. The last thing he wanted was for some overzealous Navy Doc sticking him in a rack; he needed to be there for Harry so he didn't wake to strangers around him.
Within minutes the chopper sat down for a soft landing aboard the carrier. Lee glanced over at John who was awake and offering a small one-sided grin, still medicated and a bit groggy. Lee leaned over resting a hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly.
“See you after a while John.”
“Thanks Lee,” he said with a swallow before the medical staff took command of their patient.
Lee deboarded behind the stretcher and was greeted by Lt. Commander Eaton, by now briefed that Commander Crane had been kidnapped and just rescued. He fired off a salute both out of decorum and respect for what Lee had apparently endured.
“This way Commander.”
“Any news on Admiral Nelson?” Lee asked, aware he was probably quite a sight, his khaki uniform bearing all the signs of a man who had had a rough time of it.
“Last word is he hasn't regained consciousness,” Eaton replied, leading Lee to the briefing room where a video feed had been set up for Crane to report to ONI, even though it looked like the Commander was in need of Sickbay himself.
Lee nodded his understanding as they made their way to the briefing room where Captain Reynolds was waiting. Lee saluted and presented himself, his soiled and bloody uniform notwithstanding, a naval officer through and through.
“Commander Crane, reporting as ordered, Sir.”
Reynolds returned the salute and immediately reached for a handshake.
“At ease, Commander. It sure is good to see you alive,” he commented, even though the two had never met.
“Thank you Sir, I'm kind of glad about that myself and I can't tell you how good it was to see your men on that island.”
“From what I hear, you already had everything under control,” Reynolds replied.
“Just barely,” Lee admitted, grateful for the kind conversation but ready to get on with the debriefing so he could check on Harry.
“Very well, let's get you hooked up with Admiral Johnson. The sooner we get this taken care the sooner you can visit our state of the art Sickbay,” Reynolds said, indicating Lee's obvious need for treatment.
“Aye Sir,” Lee agreed.
A few minutes later the room was cleared, except for Captain Reynolds and Commander Eaton as Lee sat at a table in front of a monitor addressing Admiral Johnson.
“Commander Crane,” Johnson greeted, taking in Lee's ragged appearance.
“First things first. I've been told both Vanessa and Jason Paris are dead.”
“Aye Sir. Jason and I were engaged in a pretty heated hand to hand when Vanessa took a shot at me and hit her brother instead.”
Johnson was busy taking notes as Lee spoke.
“And Dr. Paris?” he asked.
“She... took her own life.”
“Very well, I'll wait for your After Action Report for further details. Now, let's start with your abduction.”
“I was taken from the restaurant where Admiral Nelson and I were to meet with possible grant donors.”
“A smoke screen,” Johnson interjected. “The Foundation was a front to get to you.”
Lee nodded his understanding.
“Vanessa approached me in the lobby; there were restaurant patrons all around us, and she was armed. She drugged me with some sort of dart on her ring and led me to her car. I was completely incapacitated and ended up on a gurney and a long flight to the Caribbean. I woke up in a cell, as the days went by I discovered that it wasn't me she was after, but Admiral Nelson.”
Johnson's eyebrow rose in response to his statement.
“I was the pawn in what she called a Scavenger Hunt.”
“We suspected as much when she started sending Harriman half-way around the globe and back. We'll get to the details of Harriman's search later; right now I'm interested in your experience while captured.”
Lee knew exactly what ONI was worried about, as Vanessa's specialty was extraction of information.
“Were you interrogated?” Johnson asked, getting straight to the crux of the matter.
“Yes and no, Sir.”
That answer was met with raised eyebrows as Lee continued.
“She used a drug, a hallucinogenic that places the subject in a highly suggestive state. She walked me through my original interrogation from our first meeting.”
Johnson's lips pursed, fully aware of what Lee went through and the fact that he was the first and as far as they knew, the only victim to beat her drug.
“I was completely taken back to three years ago and endured all the physical aspects as if I had been given the actual drug.”
“What was the subject of her interrogation?”
“She was after the Codes again, although I don't believe she had any need of them, it was all a game to take me back through the physical effects of the drug and then to monitor my recovery.”
“Understood,” Johnson said. “And did you divulge the codes?”
“No Sir, I did not.”
“Very well, were you at any time pressed for any kind of information?”
“No Sir, the last drug given to me was intended to draw Admiral Nelson into giving himself up for the antidote. But once I freed the Admiral I was told another deal was cut to sell me off to the same buyers.”
“Were those buyers ever divulged?”
“Did she explain her interest in Nelson?”
“Dr. Paris was fixated on the Admiral's brilliance; at times she admired him, other times I think it was pure envy. At any rate, she indicated the Hunt was just a test, once he passed it she had 'clinical' tests, meaning her experiments. When she was through with the Admiral she was going to turn him over to Jason who already had the buyer arranged.”
Johnson leaned over, his hands folded across his desk as he looked over the weary man before him. The next questions demanded answers even though Crane looked like he was ready to keel over.
“Very well. I will expect a full detailed report of your abduction at your first convenience.”
“Now Commander, there is the matter of reporting. Did you order radio silence, preventing your COB from reporting your whereabouts and plan of action?”
“Aye Sir, I did.”
“Care to explain yourself, Commander?” Johnson ordered, not-so-gently.
“Aye Sir. Vanessa Paris and her brother were suffering from the effects of the drug they used to escape from prison. They were losing their sanity and by what I saw they were already bordering on schizophrenia. In my opinion any delay in getting to Admiral Nelson would have resulted in his capture into enemy hands or more likely his death at the hands of Dr. Paris. In short Sir, I couldn't take the chance of political debates or foreign policy to give her the time she needed to exploit him in her experiments.”
“So you took it upon yourself to mount your own rescue even though you were highly compromised by three different drug-induced sessions yourself?”
“Aye Sir. No excuses Sir. I did it and I would do it again. As it was I don't even know if I got there in time.” Lee lowered his head in an unusual move, when he raised his eyes his resolve was still there but he was unable to completely keep the pain from his face.
“I witnessed the torture, Sir. She pushed him to a point that may cost the Admiral his very mind; she admitted to me that she took him beyond the point that drove a former subject mad.”
“I understand he hasn't woken yet,” Johnson noted, letting a bit of his Four Star Admiral role down a mite before continuing on.
“The CIA is very interested in their man. What can you tell me?”
“As they well know, John Baxter infiltrated Jason Paris' organization over three years ago. It was because of him that we were able to save Seaview. Jason took him for revenge and apparently had been torturing him the entire time I had been captured. I wasn't aware of his capture until today.”
“I'll get the full report from the doctors later, but what is your personal assessment of his condition?” Johnson asked scribbling notes as he talked.
“Jason did a number on him Sir, I'm not sure if there was any interrogation involved but he'd been beaten, shocked and sliced,” Lee reported, disgusted by John's treatment. “But from what I know of John Baxter, he didn't give them anything.”
“You don't know that,” Johnson pointed out.
“I'd stake my life on it,” Lee returned quickly, and then added a “Sir” to stay in decorum.
Johnson put down his pencil and folded his hands on the desk before him.
“Very well, now that I have something to report to the Secretary I can dispense with the formalities and say, 'Well done, Commander.' You acted under extreme duress, physically compromised yourself having endured your own torture sessions and mounted the rescue of one of this nation's finest officers. Now get to Sickbay... look after yourself and Harriman.”
“Aye Sir, and thank you, Sir.”
Johnson nodded before signing off as Lee let a breath out. He sat for a moment lost in an introspective moment when Captain Reynolds placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you ready Commander?”
“Aye Sir,” he said, ready to find Harry now that the necessary reporting had been rendered, at least for the time being.
* * * * *
Lee was escorted to Sickbay and directed to the exam gurney. This was the Navy, not Seaview, so he couldn’t flex his Captain's muscles here. Fortunately, Sharkey caught sight of him and crossed the room to meet him.
“Good to see you, Sir,” he greeted heartily.
“Thanks Chief, any change in the Admiral?”
“No Sir, he hasn’t stirred,” Sharkey reported sadly to Lee’s acknowledging nod.
“Stay with him Chief, I’ll be over when I can,” Lee ordered softly.
“Aye Sir,” he rendered and headed back to keep watch over the Admiral.
“Commander, I’m Dr. Lowe. I understand you were compromised with drugs as well?”
“As well?” Lee asked.
“We found indications of several drugs in Admiral Nelson’s system, though we don’t believe they are responsible for his current unconscious state,” he explained as he motioned for Lee to take his shirt off, and then to lie on the gurney as he examined his arm and bruised mid-section then ordered blood work. “Can you tell me what the Admiral was subjected to?” he asked as he assessed Lee’s condition.
“I’m not sure Doc. She had some kind of helmet on his head, I’m pretty sure that was how she rendered the pain. I suspect some sort of brain stimulus or shock; all I know for sure is that he was in excruciating pain... and had been for some time. I brought as many notes as we could find, maybe they’ll have the answer,” he suggested.
“Yes, I have the box; my staff is working on it now. Now as for you Commander, it doesn’t look as if the bruising is too deep, your ribs feel sound, and there’s no indication of a concussion.”
“Thanks Doc,” he said trying to rise.
“Not so fast Commander,” he said, guiding Lee to lie back down. “You’re showing all the signs of physical exhaustion and I suspect your blood work is going to indicate some nasty drugs still floating around your system as well, so I’m afraid I can’t release you yet.”
Lee withheld the audible sigh he wanted to give; he was tired and it showed.
“Very well Doc, but do me favor? No sedatives. I’ve seen enough hypos to last me a long while,” Lee bargained.
“I wouldn’t dream of it with unknown drugs in your system; besides, by the looks of it you won’t need them,” he offered with a small smile. “Now I know you’re concerned about Admiral Nelson, so I’ll place you in a nearby bunk,” he offered wisely.
“Thanks Doc,” Lee replied, fast losing his fight.
A fast submariner’s shower later, and he was settled in a bunk in hospital scrubs. He intended to take a short nap, but his body had other ideas.
* * * * *
Lee woke and was surprised to discover that he had slept the last fourteen hours without stirring. He'd been informed that the Admiral was still unconscious and was afforded a uniform courtesy of the Quartermaster, complete with his insignias and his ring which Sharkey had kept safely for him. Sharkey was nowhere in sight at present; no doubt run out by the medical staff to secure his own rest for the night.
Lee promised the Doc a meal for his release from Sickbay and complied as his rank and decorum demanded, but was more than relieved after fulfilling his end of the bargain to be offered the chair next to Harry's bunk.
The Doc explained that the Admiral wasn't in a coma, and were perplexed as to why he hadn't woken yet. He was urged to do what he wanted to do anyway; talk to Harry and try to draw him out from the safe place where he had retreated from Vanessa Paris' sadistic experiments. Lee knew the place well; it was the place a man went when the pain of an interrogation threatened to break him. He'd been to that place before, but it wasn't a haven, just an escape; one that could hold a man past what his body, soul and mind required for healing. And the longer Harry stayed there, the harder it would be to bring him back; or so the torture experts had said in an ONI training session.
“Admiral?” Lee called softly, grateful that due to Harry's flag rank a curtain had been rolled in for privacy. “It's me, Sir... Lee. You're alright now, everything's going to be fine,” he said lamely, swallowing hard, almost overwhelmed by the picture in his mind that replayed over and over again: Harry's silent screams behind the sound proof door; his body struggling to arch, his hands tensed in tight fists, and then the heart wrenching sound of his cry when he opened the door and the sounds escaped the lab.
Lee took a deep breath in and reached for Harry's hand, clasping it tightly and offering an anchor. Somehow he knew that the Admiral needed to know what happened, he needed to know that Dr. Paris had no more rabbits to pull out of her hat; no more means to harm either of them ever again. He needed to know that there was finality to this mess.
“They’re dead, Sir… both of them. Not by my hand, although I was tempted… God knows I wanted to kill them both. Anyway, while I was holding them things got out of hand, you know how that is,” he stated more than asked. “Jason and I ended up duking it out and that's when Vanessa made her mistake. She fired the gun trying to get me and shot Jason instead.”
Lee lowered his head, not in sorrow for either Paris sibling, but because the whole mess was still too fresh.
“By now you know that they were both crazy, what you probably don't know is the drug they used to escape from prison had slowly been eating away at their minds. I watched both of them deteriorate before my eyes. But it wasn't their illness that caused them to do what they did to you, me or...” he stopped himself; he hadn't told the Admiral about John and didn't want to bring up his torture at this point. “Anyway, they were ruthless before they went mad, I give them no excuses for what they did,” he said resolutely. “So when Vanessa saw that she killed her own brother, she took her own life and died beside him. There are no more miracle escapes, no more faked deaths, and no more damned needles,” he promised. “They’re both gone Admiral... this time forever.”
He released Harry's hand and leaned over with his elbows on his knees speaking remorsefully.
“Admiral, I've been to the place you're at and I know it feels safe, but it's not where you belong. I need you wake up… I need to tell you how sorry I am… that I didn’t do enough… that I didn’t protect you.” He paused for only a moment before continuing on. “When I found out she was after you, I should have taken the bullet; done anything to keep her from using me to get to you. And to know you bargained yourself for the antidote… well it’s a hard pill to swallow Sir.”
He lowered his head lost in regret and pain when he was shocked to hear a weak, raspy voice beside him.
“Not your fault Lad… not your fault.”
Lee’s head shot up, partly in relief and partly to find out if Harry had survived her experiment. Was it still the Harry he knew behind those words?
“Sir?” he said reaching for Harry’s arm beside him, willing the brilliant Admiral Harriman Nelson to still be there.
“I’m just… so tired, Lee. We’ll talk later… I promise,” he said, his eyes barely open in small slits, before chuckling lightly. “But if you want to know… the value of Pi… you’ll have to wait till later.”
Lee smiled widely. “No Sir, that’s too easy for you; let’s talk quantum physics,” he returned in a full chuckle, pleased to see Harry's wit.
“Lee?” Harry said, turning serious once again and obviously weary.
“It runs both ways, Lad. She hurt you to get to me… it was a small price to pay,” he said, referring to his trade for the antidote, just as his eyes dropped heavily.
Lee swallowed back his emotion and squeezed Harry’s arm. “Just rest Admiral… we’ll talk later.”
He watched through moist eyes as the Admiral drifted off, but this time to sleep. He sat for a few moments longer to compose himself, before standing and taking a deep breath. He emerged from behind the curtain to see Sharkey waiting a polite distance away with worry etched on his face. The doctor was also nearby having heard Harry's voice, though he couldn't make out the conversation.
“He just woke up,” Lee reported with a satisfied smile. “Only for a moment, but he was lucid,” he continued.
“Was he... alright, Sir?” Sharkey asked sheepishly, concern dripping out of each word with his puppy dog eyes willing Lee for a good report.
Lee nodded affirmative. “I think he's going to be alright, Sharkey.”
The doctor blew an audible breath of relief out and excused himself to check on his patient for himself as Sharkey's face lit up.
“I knew it, Sir!” he started, too loud for recovering patients in Sickbay, and quickly quieted himself. “I just knew it,” he repeated, in a loud whisper this time, his delight just barely kept in check as Lee walked by, placing a hand on his shoulder and passing a knowing glance for the concern they had both shared. He squeezed Sharkey's shoulder and left Sickbay without saying more, heading top-side for some solitude to compose himself.
* * * * *
“Hi Lee,” John Baxter greeted from his sickbay bunk. “I was hoping I'd get to talk to you before they shipped me out.”
“How are you doing, John?” Lee asked, still concerned for his friend even though he'd been in the Doc's care for several days now.
“The injuries will heal, the rest... well you know how it is,” he said cryptically speaking of the demons he had yet to put in place, especially when he closed his eyes to sleep.
“Yeah,” Lee agreed quietly, before changing the subject. “I heard the Agency is anxious to get you home.”
“Apparently. They got a preliminary debrief from me, but they'd rather not take ONI's word for it, so I get to tell the pretty story another hundred times,” he answered sarcastically with a smile.
“They told you about the video tapes?” Lee asked, referring to a set of tapes the clean-up crew found at the complex, cruelly documenting John's care while in Jason Paris' hands.
“Yeah,” John said lowering his eyes. “Jason was sadistic... I guess he wanted to relive the “fun” after he finally killed me,” he answered introspectively, but then rallied himself. “Aside from sharing my primordial screams with Washington, at least it proves I didn't break,” he answered, taking some measure of solitude in that fact.
“What was Jason after, besides your hide?” Lee asked.
“Nothing... everything... anything he could get out of me and sell while he was taking his revenge. It was a fishing expedition,” he answered firmly, far from a broken man despite his recent experience.
Lee lowered his head and sighed. “I didn't know Jason had you, I was completely shocked when Sal brought you in,” he shared sadly.
John nodded his understanding. “Jason bragged about bagging you; I tried to escape to get to you... I just couldn't manage it.”
“There wasn't too much any of us could do,” he replied with a reassuring nod. “Anyway, they won't be bothering anyone else ever again. I take that as one consolation to this mess, the other is knowing that we all made it out alive,” he added with a smile.
Lee stood to leave. “If you need to talk...”
“Yeah... you too,” John replied, like Lee used to dealing with the fall-out alone but appreciating the offer just the same. “And thanks Lee... if you hadn't of come back...”
Lee nodded, he had thought a lot about that himself; he knew he had come back to do more than keep Vanessa and Jason from escaping. When he left the flying sub after securing Harry, he fully intended on ending both criminals right then and there, but somewhere in the three minute drive back to the house he found his principles and decided to hold them for the special ops team he knew was coming. It wasn't so much he was after revenge for what they did to Harry, but justice and due reparations. He wasn't sure the justice system could deliver; they hadn't been able to in the past. But in the end he didn't want to become what he hated... lawless. Still it was ironic that his need for revenge, justice or whatever word described his drive was what brought him back to be there for John. He didn't even want to think what else his friend would have gone through had he not returned.
“You just get better,” Lee added with a pat to John's shoulder. “Maybe I'll look you up in Washington, play a little racquetball.”
John laughed, knowing it would be quite some time before he'd be playing racquetball as the two passed their familiar banter.
“See you, Lee.”
“See you around, John.”
* * * * *
Lee and Harry were top-side enjoying the wind blowing across their faces in the solitude of the dark evening at sea. It had been three days since Harry had been retrieved from Vanessa's torture chamber and his recovery had progressed enough to allow Lee to transport him to home via FS1 and into Jamie's care. They were leaving in the morning and unfortunately, a stop in Washington for final debriefings was in order. Still, there was an urge to get back to their lives at the Institute for both of them. Seaview called to each one differently; to Harry as the creation of a life-long dream and to Lee as the steward of that dream. She was like a balm that helped them move on, as if the gentle vibrations of her engines rocked and held them comfortingly; never nagging, just encouraging them on to the greatness they had started and reminding them they still had much to accomplish.
Lee was grateful for this time alone with Harry as Sharkey would be joining them on the way back and Sickbay was never completely private, even with a privacy curtain rolled in place. At least the Admiral had been given guest quarters worthy of his four stars now that he'd been released from the doctor's continuous care.
They leaned across the rail looking out at the starry night as the breeze blew both auburn and dark hair across their foreheads. They had plenty of time to talk and had each shared their part of the story; Lee from his abduction to rescue and Harry from the Scavenger Hunt until his rescue. All the pain had been aired out, though neither one could say it was forgotten, it was at least in the past.
“It feels good to be up and about,” Harry noted, taking a drag from his cigarette and grateful that the smoking lamp was lit. He blew a puff of smoke over the rail as Lee took a sideways glance and smiled.
“I know, I know,” Harry said noticing Lee's scrutiny over his smoke. “But these things saved my life,” he defended, patting the box in his breast pocket.
Lee laughed, as Harry had already shared how the transponder was missed on his pat down, and then smiled as he leaned against the rail; grateful for heaven's favors for the hidden transponder.
“I was thinking about what you told me in Sickbay,” Harry continued in easy conversation. “Something about it finally being over; no more miracle escapes, no more faked deaths, and no more...”
“Damned needles,” Lee finished with Harry in unison, as they both chuckled again.
“You know Sir, in a strange way, I think she was in love with you,” Lee noted, “Or as close as a black widow spider can know love,” he amended.
“She was in love with her own intellect,” Harry corrected. “Aside from her brother, the only love she knew was inflicting pain to gain some sick recognition from the buyers of her evil concoctions.”
“Aye Sir,” Lee heartily agreed.
“Then I think it's fitting that it was the very drug she developed to escape from prison that deteriorated her brain and overtook her most precious possession... her intellect and ability to reason,” Harry finished. “It was, I believe, the catalyst to her pulling the trigger.”
Lee pursed his lips, his forehead furling in thought.
“I can't bring myself to feel sorry for her, Admiral,” Lee said staring out into the diamond lit sky. “She was going mad, but all it did was expose what was already in her... pure sadistic evil.”
“I agree, Lad.”
Harry blew another puff over the rail as the ocean breeze dissipated the smoke almost instantly, before sighing as if coming to an important decision.
“I think we've given enough of our lives to Dr. Paris and her brother,” Harry noted in an introspective moment meant for both of them. “Are you ready to move on?” he asked, as Lee nodded his answer with certainty.
“Aye Sir,” he returned with a smile full of confidence; his sincerity apparent in his expressive eyes, declaring he was more than ready to move on.
They stood there a moment longer, allowing the peace of the vast ocean to wash over them, before turning and walking for their quarters leaving behind both Vanessa Paris and her Hunt firmly in the past... where it belonged.
Credits and Notes:
*See my story, The Trench
**See my story, After the Night
I found the interesting fact about the Eiffel Tower's height being taller due to thermal expansion at the following site: http://en.globalquiz.org/toughest-paris-riddles/
I used a nifty internet tool to locate my grid coordinates, check it out at: http://www.findlatitudeandlongitude.com/?loc=50+n+15+e#.VxBsD5bmqUk
This story completes the trilogy for my Integrity Series, starting with Integrity (originally posted 6-8-13), followed by When Memories Fade (originally posted 8-25-13). Please note that No Man Left Behind (originally posted 9-28-13) is a Spin-Off to Integrity following the storyline of CIA Agent John Baxter, and not officially part of the trilogy as it does not further the storyline of Dr. Vanessa Paris. Agent Baxter is a recurring character and has played a part in this trilogy, as well as No Man Left Behind and Shades of Retribution, Ambushed Part II.