The Great Impostor
By Carol Foss
Sequel to Minor Damage
"You Miss Nelson?" the Expresso Deliveryman asked as he peered through the open door to Admiral Harriman's outer office of the Nelson Institute. Security guards followed and one rolled his eyes heavenward. The delivery man continued, "Like I told your cop here, I gotta' package for her."
"There must be some kind of mistake, "the pretty brunette behind the desk replied, " Edith Nelson lives in Massachusetts, and is currently on tour in New York."
"Shit!" the weary man wiped a tired brow, "I knew somebody'd goof…. Look, lady, you seem to know her, can't I leave it here?"
"Hardly…what kind of delivery service are you anyway…"
"Look, it says right here, Miss Edith Nelson, care of NIMR, this is NIMR isn't it?"
"Great," he turned and disappeared out the door, and returned with a large crate, dumping it unceremoniously on the floor. "Sign here."
"Now see here, I told you. I can't sign for her. She doesn't live here, she doesn't work here…and…."
"I THOUGHT I SAW A PUDDY TAT," the voice of a character of a popular cartoon show interrupted. "IT SLICES, IT DICES!" followed, in standard 'sell it' tones.
"What on earth?" Angie asked, confused.
"Here's the key," the Deliveryman said, "please lady, sign for it. It's driving me nuts. All the way from Sanderville."
Angie hesitated but ventilation holes on the crate made a convincing argument. She signed against her better judgment and the Deliveryman handed her the key and fled.
With caution and curiosity she nodded to the security guards.
"It came through the metal detector just fine,"one of the armed men relayed, " and the chemical aura test as well…you ready? He asked.
Angie Zepherhills nodded and he opened the lock and lifted out the large cage, wrapped in a thin green dust cover.
Lifting it off, she stared then groaned, and wearily sat down, "oh no, not another one!"
"Well, luv," the redheaded woman in green feathers sidled up to the dark haired man, " tell me, did you like the show?"
"Huh? Oh, yes, it was…uh…illuminating," he tried very hard not to avert his eyes from the stripper's face, who'd just finished her performance. It was difficult to maintain such decorum with the young woman minus her pasties. Not beautiful, not even pretty really, actually if you had to get right down to it, she was rather ugly. She was just…. Luxuriously voluptuous.
"It still doesn't make any sense to me...."she seemed confused.
"Never mind that…" A moment more and he'd forget he was a gentleman and start to drool like a complete idiot. He handed her a wad of money, "thanks and goodbye, " he said quickly and fled.
In his rush to leave, he seemed to blindly bump into someone, "Excuse me, "he raced off not even glancing back to see who it was.
In stark amazement, Kowalski rubbed his arm where the man's watch had swiped him, and looked his way as the man departed the ramshackle belly dance/strip joint into the night.
"Hey Ski? " Patterson asked, as he approached, "Did you get her to join us for drinks?"
"Huh? Uh, no, not yet…I uh, have a feeling she won't be joining us," Ski said, as he wondered what the hell the skipper was doing here, thousands of miles away from California and the Institute where Seaview was undergoing a major refit.
"Well, " Harriman Nelson wiped his lips as he finished the cold barbecued ribs and leaned back in the worn wicker chair. It was pleasant here on the patio, at the old Nelson estate and he smiled at his sister who had only recently returned from a New York gala of some kind." That was quite a lunch my dear, tell me, who did you have to bribe for the recipe?"
"Harry!" she responded with a grin, " actually, I asked Morton's mom."
"I know, I know, I'm supposed to leave all your golden boys alone…but honestly Harry, Janet is always sending him goodies and you know how much he always says her ribs are the best anywhere…so…I took him up on it…and he asked her for it…"
"And?" Nelson cocked an eyebrow.
"And what?" she replied demurely, leading him on.
"You can't expect me to believe you prepared them."
"Brother mine, I can do some things, contrary to your aldepated opinion of my domestic skills," she smiled, "…. but yes, she cooked them."
"Mrs. Morton is here, in the kitchen?? In Boston???" he asked, aghast.
"Well, of course not stupid, she's visiting Chip, remember? He's gone with her to Disney World."
"Disney World??" Nelson asked, incredulous. He knew through the grapevine that Morton sometimes enjoyed theme parks but the admiral seriously doubted the First Officer of Seaview would consider this one. Bungee jumping, wild water rafting, yes, but a kid's playground?
Edith Nelson hesitated. Her elder brother could be so blasted macho and stubborn about some things. "I simply mentioned that I had a permanent pass and hotel suite there and that it would be a shame to let the opportunity go to waste…I've always told her she should take a few days for herself having nothing but fun.
Besides, you know how she's always wanted to see the place…and she was going to cook the ribs for Chip when he visited her in Vermont anyway, so she insisted on bringing the leftovers here before leaving with Chip for Florida.
And for your information, Disney World is a very nice place to visit. Even for stubborn submarine officers and old fuddy duddy admirals like you. I'm glad you came to visit Harry, but you really should try to relax a bit more."
'KAW!' her pet Cocketel interrupted.
"Edith," Harry winced and rubbed his eyes, the current topic forgotten, " I realize you feel deeply for your feathered friends, but does that blasted pest have to sit with us? Angie may not object to being squawked at all the time but I do."
"So," she raised an eyebrow, "you did delegate that sweet girl to look after Penelope for me after you said you would! Really Harry! "
"All right, all right…I fell down on the job," he admitted, "but I was busy with important matters and I couldn't just chuck them to baby-sit a bird! And you were back soon enough…you treat it like a real pet or something," he smirked, knowing how that would upset her sensibilities. He just couldn’t understand having a pet that was unable to sit up and roll over like a dog or purr and lounge about like a cat.
"You really disappoint me, Harry, " she pretended to pout, " at least you could have tried to get along with her. Next time, I'll ask someone else to look after her.hmm, maybe Lee Crane wouldn’t mind. I understand you finagled him away from a promising career in the Navy."
"Seaview is hardly a garbage scow," he taunted with a wink, " Edith, as a Reservist he can still advance in rank and as for a career, well, I'm sorry you don't think Seaview is worthy of him."
"Well…he'll never make admiral as a weekend warrior."
"You think he wants flag rank? Has he said anything?" Nelson asked, suddenly concerned. He hadn't thought that Crane even cared about any stars, let alone a fourth stripe of a bird captain. Long overdue, in Nelson's mind, but that blasted Navy red tape…
"No, Harry, I haven't even seen him since the old Nautie…I just want to see him with stars and more medals and things…a man like Crane was born to wear a uniform…" she sighed.
"Still have the hots for him then?" Nelson asked gently with a grin.
"Harry! I was 15!"
"Well, we were good friends, even if he was just putting up with the captain's little kid lovesick sister…but it sure would be nice to see him again. I called NIMR this week to see if he'd care to fly out to join me at the Wimbleton tennis tournaments in London, but he wasn't there, and they couldn't even get him at his apartment, "she paused, " I gather from Kowalski that he's been off on some…adventure," she smirked.
"Adventure?" Nelson sputtered," what adventure?? He had plans to visit a friend up at some ski lodge in Colorado and then he was going to paint his new apartment and…oh no," he ran a hand through his hair, " it could be an ONI assignment, though that's the first I've heard any of them referred to as adventures…the agency can still claim him on occasion, unfortunately.
He agreed to maintain his operative standing, against my better judgment…must have been after that cloak and dagger we used when we.. " Nelson quickly stopped, there were some things that were classified, even from Edith. "Lee thrives on the danger… he always has," Nelson hid a fond memory of some of Ensign Crane's little sea and shore side excursions that made the crew of the Nautilus betting on which would happen first, his court martial or a shotgun wedding.
No, that rumor couldn’t have been true. Lee was known to be naturallly amorous, but not stupid. He'd never have taken full advantage of a girl's undue or drunken…infatuation, and as for insubordination, well, usually only when justified.
Yes, Crane was a good officer. He'd actually seemed boyed up after a rough go, instead of a nervous wreck.
For a moment the great Nelson had a terrible vision of a disgruntled Captain Crane, tapping a pencil at the plotting board, sighing, bored with Seaview, missing all the Naval and ONI excitement that had become part of his career before joining Nelson.
While ONI hadn't been in on some of the undercover operations Seaview had taken on, Crane had been pretty much responsible in most of them thus far, whether it was getting vital information, or defeating their enemies.
He also seemed to obtain a few extra dividends. Friends to add to his…er…group of female friends. Harem, the crew was beginning to call it. And while Crane may have been discreet about his ability in adding new names to his little black book, there were differences of opinion on technique between the captain and the first officer. Sometimes Nelson wondered if the two men might end up like two bulls in a china shop in a bit of friendly rivalry.
Brought back to the present, Nelson cleared his throat and continued, "I'll try to find out for you if he's on assignment or just off mountain climbing or something…I think he also mentioned something about meeting a friend and taking his mother on vacation to Morocco."
"Morocco?? I can't imagine why…when I visited, all I could see were smelly streets, and dirty children…oh, wait…of course…the Child Star Program…that must be it…maybe she was one of the of the patrons…"
"Well, let me check, but as for Lee baby-sitting Penelope," Nelson added as an afterthought, as he glanced the bird's way, " I really rather doubt he'd have the time, though… he did seem rather comfortable around her…" he admitted with bewilderment.
"C'mon Harry say something nice to her…. but for Heaven's sake not 'Polly want a cracker'…"
The man of letters was dead, and Lee glanced about the shadows. He seriously doubted that Dr. Prell would even be mentioned in the news. The aged man of genius had been forgotten long ago and all that was left were his ashes.
Still, something in Crane rebelled about carrying the remains to the United States or the free world.'What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and loose his immortal soul'?, Lee pondered the Gospel, as he carried what was left of one of Hitler's top scientists in his arms, and the last of his notes in a manila envelope tucked away under his sweater.
"Ta dah!" Morton plopped a 'Donald Duck' hat on Angie as he entered Nelson's outer office at the Nelson Institute. Chip looked sunburned and happy, in dazzling white and green trimmed tennis shorts, a cartoon 'King Trident' T-shirt, and official Disney World sneakers, "Where's the old old man?"
"In his office spitting lightening bolts at ONI …Chip…you'd better get in there or he's liable to fire Seaview's missiles at Washington…they lost contact with Lee...but they won't admit it."
"What?? I thought he was on shore leave! No, don't tell me…" Morton sighed exasperated, "so," he mused, " Lee didn't give up his standing after all…and now he's missing? Oh boy," Chip took a breath, knocked on the door and entered the Admiral's office, his fictitious fun forgotten, along with the 'Goofy' hat still on his head.
"Blast it!" Nelson was bellowing into the videophone, "and I keep telling you idiots that I know very well that…yes, but…. I understand that you can't….then call the Chief of Staff again!…Of course I know I don't have an appointment!Wait…Yes, I know Crane's an experienced operative…what do you mean none of my business!! Damnit man, he's not James Bond ! I see…yes, but…but…oh very well but I...damn!" Nelson smashed the receiver down with fury.
"They hung up on me!!" Nelson said, incredulous. He was not used to being dismissed so non-chalantly.
"What happened?" Chip sat down in front of the vast desk, and sank into the plush velour upholstery. He hated these chairs; brought out of storage to satisfy Edith Nelson's decorating urges. He'd always preferred the strait no nonsense wood or metal chairs they had on Seaview.
"All they'll tell me is that Crane may have been onto something, but they're not sure. Is he or isn't he??Blast it! I know we may be worried over nothing, it's not like he hasn't done this sort of thing before, I know that much from all the blacked out or closed classified files listed on his service record, but…Chip," Nelson ran a hand through his hair nervously, " his position as captain of the Seaview… he's at far more risk now than he ever was before…" Nelson mused, deeply concerned.
"You think he may have been kidnapped or…killed?"
"I don't know, they don't know, and ONI is being most uncooperative…you think they'd tell me what the hell was going on…no details, nothing…they won't even tell me if he was on assignment! I've even been to the president, personally, while I was in the east for that symposium…all I got was that 'sorry, only those in the 'need to know' can have access ' crap about undercover assignments…and then we got slapped with this new dept. of agriculture sea bed charting mission! All while the captain could be lying dead or dying someplace! Chip, I'm worried…"
"I'll round up as many of the crew to talk to as I can. Maybe someone can tell us where they saw him last…it might help."
"Yes, good idea, oh and Chip? Get rid of the hat. 'Goofy' is staring at me from the top of your head…had a good time?" Nelson tried to calm himself.
"Well, actually I did, got you and Lee some presents too, tell you all about it when this business with Lee is over…not that I mean…well…I'm sure he'll be okay sir…"
Lee awoke to the sound of sheep and camels. He winced as he felt the split lip and what felt like elephants playing Ping-Pong on his head. Momentarily confused, he looked about the dark dank cell hoping it wasn't true, but he knew better. It was.
"So, "Morton asked the nervous crewman in the conference room, "you saw the captain at this, er…club in Rabat, Morocco ?"
"Yes sir," Ski replied, "I was pretty astounded myself, I mean, it's a small world isn't it? I mean, wining that potato chip jingle contest, and that cruise, but…he didn't really see me, he bumped into me when he was going out…I turned around and he was practically out the door…" he rubbed his arm. "If it was the skipper that is, I mean, the guy could have been a look alike…I only got a glimpse of him, and we all are supposed to have some twin someplace…"He rubbed his arm again, it was still sore, and didn't notice that his lips were pursed thinking about the incident. "Pat didn't see him though."
"Go on Ski," Nelson prodded. "What are you trying not to say."
"Well," he hesitated, " I'm not sure sir, but …well…,"oh boy, Ski thought, the skipper's really gonna be in for it, he knew how Nelson had publicly spoken out against such places as health risks, not to mention, money laundering, "I think I saw him talking to one of the girls and….and…he paid her something," Ski said in hushed tones.
"I see…" Nelson said firmly, understanding the implication, "Kowalski, is this..this club a …a …"he found he just couldn’t say it. He looked to Chip to continue, the topic was too damn embarrassing.
"A whorehouse?" Chip prodded the men.
"No sir!" Ski and Patterson vehemently answered together, ashamed they'd been found out.
"Well, not exactly, "Patterson added, "sometimes…well…some guys went out the back door and the girls they were buying drinks for followed them…"
"I see, not exactly on the premises," Morton answered.
"Uh, that's it sir," Patterson answered. Indeed the small building behind the club was not on the premises. Not that he'd ever been lucky. It was way too pricy, and frankly he'd never have had the nerve. He'd been warned about these foreign girls…
"What's this girl's name?" Nelson asked.
"Lilly Lollipop, but she's not, I mean…well, maybe, I mean, we never, I mean…"Ski was red.
"Gentlemen," Nelson replied firmly but gently, "aside from my concerns for your health, your private matters are your own, but what does concern me is that she may have information that can help us find Captain Crane, and since Washington has told us to frankly to mind our own business, we will, damn it, the captain is our business, so, just where is this place? Chip, have Angie get us a flight on Rapid-O to Rabat, Morocco."
Yes, it was all going according to plan, Lee sank back down to the filthy stone floor. Not his plan of course, and he could only hope that the information he'd retrieved was safely stowed. Certainly when Nelson found himself drafted into the situation he'd know what to do and then Crane would be:
1. Tossed into the Brig, 2. Thrown overboard, or 3. Immediately discharged from Seaview and probably from the Navy Reserve.
"Look, mister, I'm not going to answer anymore of your questions," the girl said firmly, with a fake French accent.
"Now see here young lady, " Nelson began, but was stopped by Morton.
"Miss, uh, we just want to know where …friend went, that's all. "
"Why?"she took a puff on a cigarette.
"Stop that!" Nelson pulled it away from her, "don't you know you'll rot your lungs, and I doubt if youré even old enough to smoke," he warned, despite his own addiction and dire warnings from Lee and Doc.
"Who do you think you are, my father?"
"Everything okay in there Lil?" a male voice came through the door.
"Yeah, I guess so, hey Abdul, "she called out.
"Yeah sugar plum?"
"You remember that guy, a couple of weeks ago, the cute tall dark one with the big American bucks , you see where he went? "
"No, you mean you didn't…" Abdul asked.
"No, I didn't…."she turned to the officers, after he left in a huff, "We're not that kind of girls if that's what you're thinking…I'm an exotic dancer, that's all…we do belly dances for the old lady tourists and strip teases for their husbands while the wives shop. This …friend of yours…he was kinda nice, all I know is that I never saw him again, that's all."
"Kowalski, I still think you really had better get that arm seen to, " Edith Nelson insisted, as she put a small bit of cracker meal into the parrot's cage in the Seaview's observation nose, " I mean it, it looks raw, infected even."
"Okay maám, but…"
"THE WEATHER STARTED GETTING ROUGH, THE TINY SHIP WAS TOSSED…KAW! " Squawked the parrot, in character and in tune, while the Cocketel in the cage opposite fluttered it's wings and added a few "PRETTY BOY, PRETTY BOY!'s in appreciation.
Second Officer O'Brian put the final touches of preparation in order, increasingly aggravated. Nelson's sister may have enough clout to bring her birds aboard while waiting for Nelson to return, but he doubted if she'd be granted passenger status when Seaview would be given the order to sail. At least he hoped so. He was getting very tired of the parrot's mimicking everything and anything it had seen or heard on TV. Whoever'd owned that winged creature certainly had had cable!
The admiral's sister had flown out to California immediately after her brother had started to sputter and spit after his ineffective calls to Washington. After a hurried goodbye in which Harry left for Washington, she'd booked a flight to Santa Barbara.
Taking Penelope along, she had hardly expected this latest addition to her featherarium waiting for her. Whoever had sent it and why? She was a popular guest on many TV talk shows, and a noted visitor to hatcheries specializing in feathered friends, but these exotic birds were expensive…could she have a secret admirer? That made her nervous. She'd been stalked before by men more attracted to her finances than to her heart, and all hands knew she was wary.
"Well? "Ski asked as Doc finished dressing the sore arm in Seaview's SickBay.
"This," he held up a small sliver, "is metal, however did you come by it?"
"Gee Doc, I have no idea, my arm was sore but I never was near a machine shop or something…I only know the skipper bumped into me in Rabat and my arm was sore ever after."
"Well, who sent it?" Edith asked, as she held the brightly plumed parrot on her fingers, and walked about the control room, as the crew began to board and make preparations to get underway in a few hours.
"We still really have no idea," Angie replied, "Expresso Delivery checked all of their invoices and they can't even say it was delivered by them…but it may have been, evidently they have had anonymous clients who wish to remain so. "
'FRANKLY MY DEAR I DON'T GIVE A DAMN", interrupted the voice of 'rhrett butler' parrot.
"Most talking birds can only repeat a few words or phrases," Edith mused, " but the African Grey can actually understand language…well, somewhat…they're also the best mimics, so I wonder if this could be a new breed, …I know I wrote several articles in Parrot Pals about how I would love to see voice decibel impersonation, but I hardly think a secret admirer would go this far…"
In his cabin aboard the sub, NIMR, Nelson held up the splinter, dejected. He was tired from the flight back to California. Rapid-O was a fast mach-5 airline and cut the time in half from ordinary flights, but he was weary. " It looks like an ordinary splinter, Kowalski…I'd hoped it was a coded chip…so I guess Crane actually just happened to bump into you after all."
"You mean you thought it was actually part of a spy mission? His being there and my arm?" Ski's growing estimation of the captain shot up significantly.
"Uh, Kowalski, we do not refer to the captain's ONI assignments as spying… however, under the circumstances….
"Well ?" the electrically synthesized voice seemed to echo in the dark room.
Lee Crane defiantly spat in the direction of the voice.
"We've been through this before,"the voice continued, as the guards applied more pressure to the ropes.
"I told you already!" Crane yelled, as his arms were pulled tighter above his head. "I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Yes, yes, so you've said…now, your arms are going to be pulled from their sockets unless you tell us what we don't already know…"
Crane closed his eyes in determination and said nothing.
"I tire of this, Winston, whip him again, then bring in the woman, and tell the lab to hurry up with that truth serum! The Premier is growing impatient. "
"You're sure?" Angie asked, in growing desperation. "I see, thank you."
She eyed the sideboard and grabbed the decanter of Glen Livet, poured a small amount into a paper cup and drank it, though it made her cough.
"Here, let me help, " a male voice said, as his hand gave her back a quick slap. "better?"
"Yes, thanks…and you are?"
"Jackson, I seem to have a summons…"he showed her a slip of paper.
She brightened, and said, "a moment," before pressing the intercom, and adding, "Lt. Commander Jackson is here sir, and no luck yet on the whereabouts of Mrs. Crane. She's on vacation. "
"Very well…send him in," Nelson answered.
"Please Commander," Nelson said as Jackson entered, " sit down, this is Lt. Commander Morton, our XO, Lt. O'Brian, our second officer.
Commander, I asked you here because your name and address was found on five parking tickets in Commander Crane's car. Am I correct in assuming you and he are friends or at least recent acquaintances? Good. I hope you may be able to help us out in a difficult… situation."
Jackson turned pale and almost whispered, "Is Lee in trouble again?"
"Again?" Morton asked.
"Well, ComSubPac was upset when you bypassed the Navy chain of command to get me here, you're apparently Seaview's command staff, Lee gave up active service to be assigned to Seaview, and he's not in the room, so…I figure he's gone and gotten himself in trouble again, by the simple process of elimination."
"Do you know anything about his…uh…special assignments?" Chip asked.
"Which ones? I mean," he hesitated, " the kinds that get him in trouble with with irate fathers," he tried to make light of it, then seriously, "or, er…government ones?"
"The government ones, " Nelson answered, determined not to ask about Lee's private life. "The non-navy government ones."
"Uh oh, don't tell me, ONI's lost him again, right?"
"Well, frankly, yes, "Nelson bashed a cigarette in the overflowing ash tray. "Or they're not saying. "
"I see, "Joe said, "par for the course…"
"Explain," Nelson demanded.
"Sir, ONI always covers it's own ass, if you'll excuse my language," he apologized to Edith, " Sometimes… "he shuddered, "sometimes they just tell him what they want and leave it all to him…or…they tell him what to do and make him a decoy…and sometimes if he just happens onto something he tells them…Lee never really revealed very much of how it works, he can't, but I do know he had really bad misgivings, even nightmares about some of the assignments… rough ones."
"Damn." Nelson pursed his lips.
"Yes sir, that's it exactly…tell me, sir, just what info do you have? Maybe we can figure something out…look, I'm no agent, but I do know a bit how Lee operates, at least on shore leave. Maybe it can help." Damn, I hope so.
"Good man, "Nelson tried to nod his thanks.
"NO!!" Lee gasped out as he hung there, arms taught above his head, helpless, naked, and suspended from the ropes eleven feet from the floor. Sweat and fresh blood glistened on his cold bare skin as it dribbled down from where the whip had torn into his flesh and the ropes into his wrists, onto the floor beneath.
He knew the worst was yet to come, and steeled his mind.
"Stop it, oh please stop it!" the small woman cried out as her arms were held behind her back.
"No, don't turn," the voice commanded and her eyes were forcibly held open as her head was turned by a guard to face the man suspended by the ropes.
" You mustn't be so distressed, "the voice continued, oozing sentimentality, "He's quite a brave man now isn't he, your son, to endure such…aggravation, and..hah hah, embarrassment. The whip was most…amusing,…now, tell him to give us the information we want, or we will do the same to you…"
"You bastards!!" Lee screamed.
"You will tell us?" the disembodied voice asked as a hefty guard tightened his grip on the woman.
Crane looked at her, pleading with his eyes to understand, and whispered, "no."
"Oh, man," Patterson grumbled, "I'm beat!" he tumbled into a well worn chair in the aft crew's quarters. "Double shifts are a real grind."
"Yeah, hey Pat, "Ski asked, propped up by pillows on his bunk with a well worn travel quide, "Why would the skipper be in Morocco anyway?"
"Miss Nelson says his mom's maybe got a charity there she sends moolah to…probably went there to check on it…"
"Yeah, maybe, but…"
"You got any ideas Ski?" Chief Jones voice interrupted, "cause we're takin' em all right now…"
"Well, Chief, the way I see it, the skipper'd have to have a darn good reason to be there. In the exact same place as me and Pat were, I mean, he's not exactly the tourist type, even if he was with his mom, and they still haven't found her either…something's fishy, and why did he bump into me…I mean, so the thing wasn't a spy chip but maybe he was tryin' to tell us something…and we just haven't caught on yet…if it was him."
"Yeah, if it was…" Jones sat wearily.
"Lee, Lee," the soft voice echoed around his head as opened his eyes. "Can you see me? Can you hear me?" it asked as he felt his wounds gently dabbed with a wet cloth.
"Ohhhhh, "he groaned as he tried to sit up, quite dizzy, an after effect of the confessions the truth serum had forced out of him.
"Are you okay? Did they hurt you? "he tried to focus on her face, still blurry, " I…I had no choice, "he said, agonized, "How did you get here?"
"Yes, I'm fine…they didn't touch me, they even gave me a room with a sink and a toilet, not like this…this…cesspit full of bugs," she nodded to him, furtively. "I was simply hauled off like some criminal…"
After about ten seconds, Lee nodded. The message about bugs had passed. "You're not supposed to know words like that…what would your friends say?"
"They'd say you should have gone to law school or into medicine or to Hollywood or someplace safe like that instead of traipsing across the world with that glory hound Nelson."
"I know, I know….why you idolize the man is beyond me and furthermore these spy missions have got to stop…" she whispered, as she handed him his mud stained clothing. "Compliments of our host…Lee, "she helped him to stand, "now that you've accommodated his interest…what kind of mission is this anyway?"
"There is no mission, …I was in the wrong place at the right time, that's all. The US is not involved in this, Nelson's not involved in this…."he said firmly, as his eyes roamed their prison, grateful his mother was an aficionado of James Bond movies with all of their electronic surveillance dohickies, as she'd called them. "All I know is that Mr. Macawsome had words with the doctor now and then, that's all,"Lee continued, " I had no idea there could have been more. So I guess I'm a traitor."
"Those…birds…" Patterson glared toward the nose and spoke under his breath, "are driving me insane!"
"Odd, though…" Ski replied, in like, "I actually thought I heard Chief Jones cussing me out, but it was the new one, I guess it parrots everything it hears, oh, sorry. I didn't mean it as a pun, Pat, honest. Parroting…"he started to snicker.
"You say something Kowalski?" Morton asked.
"Uh, nothing sir, only…well, now that I think about it…sir, that new bird…nobody knows where it came from right?"
"Well, that er, club we went to, it was called the Green Feather and…"nah, I'm groping at straws here."
"Go on Ski," Morton replied, intrigued, as Nelson began to approach the two as he saw Chip's interest.
"Well, this bird shows up from nowhere, from nobody…like it was a secret or something…and the skipper's missing and he was there, if it was him, at the club named the green feather, and this bird has mostly green feathers and well..it's way kind of convenient…"
"And?" Morton asked.
"Well," Ski saw the admiral standing behind Morton now and decided if he was going to make a fool of himself he'd might as well go all the way, "well, maybe the skipper sent it to Miss Edith…maybe it knows something…something that he just can't get to us…and well, maybe …we just have to wait for it… to talk…sir."
"That's absurd!" Morton responded.
"Yes," Nelson added, as he began to ponder, "but it's so absurd, it just might be the truth! And…that's it! Chip, Lee said Cocketels saved his life once…I wonder….have Sparks put all security recordings together that our two feathered friends have said, ashore and aboard, even when we were baby-sitting Penelope a while back, I don't care if it's a sneeze! And have Edith come to the nose. Damn I'm glad she talked me into letting her stay aboard."
"Well now, Captain Crane, this Mr. Macawsome you revealed to us as your contact with the late doctor is most elusive, but we will find him. I have also enjoyed toying with you ."
"Now that you've done your dirty work, at least let my mother go!"Crane spat.
"And let her miss watching you die? Never! I give you a choice, the quick way to die, by cyanide, or a slow lingering death, relatively speaking, as your car careens off a cliff to explode below…all while mama watches you writhe or being torn and burnt to pieces. By the way," the manila envelope was tossed on the floor, "this information you so carefully hid away is utterly worthless," he laughed, " A waste of time and effort. Nothing but poetry! A collection of victoriana by a senile old man!" the urn was smashed on the floor. "A friend of yours, you will join him soon, both of you."
"I like the way your man Kowalski thinks, "Jackson looked over his notes, in the wardroom. " I have no doubt it was Crane..., "he examined the metal splinter…"you know, this almost looks like an antennae…"
"That little thing?" Lt. O'Brian asked.
"You'd be surprised at what ONI comes up with , makes the movies pale in comparison…not that I'm an expert at it of course…but…they once put a transponder in Crane's toenail…so they could keep a track on him. It sent out location signals and once, when it had a glitch near a microwave signal even picked up sound waves, darn embarrassing for him, they could even hear him peeing in the can …. I…hey…I wonder….can you have Sparks attach this…antennae into , oh blast and damnation, I don't know the frequency these little buggers use…,"he clicked the mike, "Admiral? Admiral Nelson sir, this is Jackson, I think we may have something…maybe…if it still works. I don't know how long these things work."
"Anything Edie? " Nelson asked as his sister listened to the taped parrot/Cocketel conversations. A lab had been set up just for that purpose. The real birds were still in the observation nose, under guard and surveyed by round the clock tape recording.
"Nothing out of the ordinary.. phrases by Penelope, and everything else by the parrot..you know I think that bird likes cartoons."
" Ít? You haven't named it yet?" he sat down.
"Well, I had a few ideas, but if this is Lee's bird, I'd better leave the honors to him…Harry? You know this whole idea is ludicrous…but I hope it is true."
"Thank you my dear, I thought you'd like to know, we've got that metal sliver of Kowalski's hooked up to the radio. Jackson thinks it might be an antennae. Yes, I know it’s a long shot…but he may be onto something.…we've set up a watch schedule for the live chatter…come along, you need some rest.
"Harry,"Edith tapped a pencil on the table, " I do remember the bird reciting the WQLP logo…if I'm not sure, that station is restricted to paying customers…it's very expensive…I wonder if…well, do you think they might let us have the list of subscribers…maybe it could help…"
"See to it, "the voice said and exited the cell and a car drove off.
"You heard him,"one of the guards ordered, " the pill or we strap you in the car and blow you up."
Lee reached for the capsule of death, glad his mother was restrained. Taking a deep breath he placed his hand to his mouth and swallowed. Clutching for his throat he stumbled around, then fell to the ground beside one of the guards and was still.
"Well , mama? Ready to join him?" one of the guards asked, but suddenly lurched as he was kicked by Crane, knocking him off balance.
Grabbing the gun ,Lee held it to the man's temple. "One move from either of you and I shoot! Mom, get the other gun."
Quickly as she could, that was accomplished and she aimed it toward the other guard.
"Now," Crane continued, " how would you two like a taste of your own medicine…no? Didn't think so…"
"But you should be dead!" one of the guards said, awed.
"Don't you know? I’m immune to death! Sorry Mom, but I have to do this, " Crane brought the butt of the gun down on the men in quick succession.
"But he's right!" she said as she helped him quickly gag and chain the men to the rings in the stone wall, "you should be dead!"
"Not if you palm it…"he grinned as showed her the capsule in his palm. "Come on, we have to get out of here."
"Idiot! !" a masterful female voice came over the videophone in a dark office.
"But the torture, and the truth serum worked! We simply can't find the contact!"
"Had it ever occurred to you that with his specialized training, Crane could resist most serum's simply by exaggerating the truth, giving us a false trail to follow?!
Macaw you idiot, is a type of parrot! And Dr. Prell had one. Bought by a showgirl from some strip joint to accent her costume! That bird, "the voice grew menacing, " may have been privy to some rather important information. Go get the bird and bring it back! Crane cannot be allowed to contact the West. Kill the mother if you have to, when you find them, but find them!
"That's a bit hard to believe about the parrot, Lee, " Mrs. Crane stumbled as the two fled the small adobe hut. Not well guarded at all, she pondered. So unlike most spy novels where captors had small armies to keep their prisoners in check. "Out with it, you were on assignment with your new admiral or ONI again weren't you?"
Instead of answering, he simply grinned, glad she was a fan of cheap detective and spy thriller fiction. It was never that simple in real life.
"Lee," she prodded. "What didn't you tell them?"
"Dr. Prell. He was onto something. A formula he said. One that could make the A bomb a kid's toy."
"But he'd dead…I saw it on the news. He left nothing."
"Perhaps not. But he could have. Only the parrot knows.… Seaview should be nearby if Ski figured out the antennae….I hope."
"What? No, never mind I'm too tired to learn more about spy toys. "
"I'm not a spy…though, sometimes I feel I should be paid as well…"
"So you mailed this bird to California?"
"Live cargo is sent all the time by plane, but don't worry, I'm sure it arrived safely…"and I have the scratches to prove it .
"And just how far away is this Tangier we're headed to? She looked distressed as the two hiked along the trail, spotting ancient ruins and small adobe villages along the way.
"Well, judging from the terrain, I'd say north…but I don't know how far, Okay, Mom, listen, we have to be careful now…we can't afford to be caught again, they'd gladly pay for m…never mind… I'm sorry you got caught up in all of this…I really had no idea they'd nab you too."
"Are you bleeding again? It's hard to tell with sweater. You look almost normal."
"Never mind, its only superficial…look, once in Tangier we're going to steal one of the boats down there…we may have to be at sea for some time…"
"Oh swell…I may be a fisherman's daughter but still I get terribly seasick."
"Then just hold onto the rail, I'll get us out of this Mom, I promise….shhhh" he motioned her to stay quiet. He sauntered to a village well, along the trail. 'Salaaming', he drew some water, the few souls about giving little notice the dirty traveler. After drinking, he motioned his mother over.
She followed suit as he nodded, glad her inoculations were up to date. Bits of gluck swirled in the dirty water.
Checking to see that no-one was looking their way, he 'stumbled' against the well, knocking off some garments drying on it . Scooping them up, he laid them back on the edge. The owners might be back quickly, and could notice the few missing pieces.
Taking his mother's arm they departed and after about a mile quickly ducked inside an ancient ruin.
"Here, "he whispered, "we need to look like locals, not tourists…"
The pair soon emerged, she in a dreadfully ugly skirt with bangles and he in a homespun robe over his clothes, complete with traditional desert headgear.
"You look like an Arab!"
"Good!, "he smudged her face with a bit of dirt, "you're too clean… you're a demeaned, poor, hardworking peasant, remember," he broke the heels of her shoes, "impractical and out of place.Sorry. I'll buy you a new pair when this is all over."
"Hmmm, "the man mused, as the girl lay unconscious, "so, she sold the bird to a tourist…an American tourist. Tall, dark, and dreamy, she said. It could have been Crane. in fact, I'm almost convinced of it."
"But if the Americans already have the formula Dr. Prell was working on..."
"I doubt if anyone but Crane or the premier has figured it out the possibilities. Lollipop was a pawn, that's all, I'm sure. Crane would want to get the bird to safety…Of course! Check Expresso. That's the only way to ship contraband and they're proud of it!"
"But where would he send it?"
"To Nelson, you numbskcull! His boss, though…wait…wait…of course, Edith Nelson! Little sister of the big cheese…she's an aficionado of birds…contact NIMR. You represent the Dexter Charity, you need to contact Miss Nelson…about submitting a contribution…"
"Look, Prell never left written notes. He kept doodling all over a blackboard, and erased as we went along. The bird alone could have the key! Find Miss Nelson and you find the bird!"
Nelson found himself in the Wardroom, doodling with an idea for faster speed and convenience …and cursing himself for not having thought of it sooner…a smaller nesting sub, with flying capabilities.
Edith laughed at the drawing, knocked on Nelson's head and said, "sorry, just in case its wood in there".
"Actually, I think that's a pretty good idea sir, "Jackson commented, "this sure looks like a great idea, I think it's sort of thing Lee would really like…"
"You really like him don't you?" Nelson asked.
"We were plebes at the same time at Annapolis…we went through a lot together."
"But he outranks you now," Edith added. "Aren't you a bit jealous?"
"Only when it comes to the dames…this is good chow Admiral…better than any at ComSubPac!"
"You okay Mom? "Lee asked as he struggled with the small cabin cruiser they'd pilfered. It's engine worked but fussed and sputtered against Crane's demands for more speed against the choppy waves. It was going to be a long trip to where Crane hoped Seaview was lying in wait for them, offshore of Tangier.
"Oh, go away and let me die in peace…"she hung over the side, in agony. The small boat could sink and she wouldn't notice.
"That bad? "the words were gentle and compassionate. "Look, go on inside. Lie down, I'm sure there's a bucket or something… and I think you'll feel better…I'll call you when we reach Seaview or if…"
"Or if? "
"Or if,"he answered without answering.
"Sir, "O'Brian reported to Mr. Morton, "we're being requested by the port authorities to be boarded. They say the birds are carrying a deadly virus and have to be destroyed."
"This is outrageous!" Edith fumed, "What new virus! Show me!"
"Madam, I assure you,"the armed official nodded to his aide," I have no wish to cause distress, but I may have to destroy your birds. Surely you are aware of the latest information. Here, see for yourself. The virus can cause severe medical complications and even death in their handlers. Indeed the vessel will have to remain outside our territorial limits in quarantine. If you have handled the birds you as well will have to be examined."
"I think we can come to an equitable compromise, "Nelson intruded, "…you say there is a deadly virus, very well, let me draw a sample of blood from both of the birds, you can then verify if they have this bug you're talking about and if they do, you may destroy them and escort us all to your quarantine medical facilities."
"Harry!" Edith gasped.
"But, "Nelson continued, "if you find no virus, you give us a certificate and shove off."
There was a moment of hesitation, "That is equitable, sir. Agreed."
"Well, I don't like it, "Ski complained. "Those birds are healthier than me! And I sure don't feel sick!"
"Yeah, but rules are rules…poor Miss Edie," the chief replied.
"'Are they gonna kill the birds now?"
"Yeah. There's no doubt about it, the admiral says, that they have this bug thing. It showed up on the microscope and looked just like the one on the health card. The admiral was gonna try to get her to leave the room but she won't…he's gonna give them the shots. He won't let the guy. Says it's his responsibility…"
"And the skipper's plan, I mean about us getting the vital info?"
"I guess it’s a bust."
"Oh, great," Ski sighed, "and poor Miss Edith."
"Yeah, poor kid… "
The crew watched helplessly as Edith's former feathered friends were taken topside in a box.
"Sir, what do we do now?" second officer O'Brian asked of the XO, while the port official made a note on his order.
"What can we do? Edith and the Admiral have to go over to the med. facility…they're getting ready to now. I'm sure it's just a formality, I doubt if they were ever scratched or bitten…but…"
"I'm sorry, sir, Sparks relayed, " I've tried everything, but that antennae thing hasn't picked up anything on the skipper, not anything, and that cable company refuses to share its list of subscribers."
To an ordinary eye, it simply looked like a sparkle on the waves, but to a trained sailor it screamed 'submarine'. At first hoping it was Seaview's periscope, Lee's hopes were crushed when he saw the markings. It was not Seaview; in fact it was the latest in deep-sea attack subs owned by the People's Republic.
"Luxor," Lee whispered , knowing the captain's reputation."You always wanted to go into show biz, mom, now's your chance, just follow my lead no matter what!"he ordered his mother as her ripped out a few wires from the engine, slid them overboard, applied what he hoped was even more grime to his face and hands, and hailed the enemy submarine.
"Ahoy there! " Lee exclaimed in a broad Welsh accent, as he descended into the submarine, "Name's Eb, Ebenezer Steele, and this is me stepmum, Agatha, come on mum, we found them … that was a long trip from that, what was it called agin' mum? On the tour guide? Rabbit?"
"Ehy, I don't know, luv," Agatha descended into the sub, " all these foreign names sound funny to me, 'specialy that Rabbit place, though they did 'ave a nice show at the 'otel, and Casablanca was nice…"she replied in broadest stage Yorkshire.
"This is a military vessel, "the captain replied, " I am captain Luxor of the People's Republic. Is this some game? You are not locals."
"Oh, oh , hah hah, no mate, "Lee said, "but when in Araby lands, it's best ta dress the part, so ta speak…too many scams on us foreigners, and we ád to get to ya."
"Sir, "the radioman called out, "they report that the parrot has been safely delivered to the preimer on her yacht five miles from here. They also report that the Nelsons will soon be transported to her shortly."
"Sir, the power boat's engine is a dead losss,"the chief reported.
"Very well,"he turned to Eb, who was hiding his interest at the report by looking and pointing in awe at the interior lights of the control room, " due in the situation, I can have a powered boat take you to the nearest port, or place an escort on your own craft."
"Oh, that's lovely dear, "Agatha smiled bewitchingly, "my, what an interesting ship 'ere…."
Lee interrupted, " I could sure use a pee afore we tell you all about the danger you're in..mum is never wrong…are ya luv."
"What are you talking about?" the captain asked, irritated.
"Me mum sees things…doesn't even need a crystal ball, so when she starts goin'into a trance and all, and starts talking about this ere sub named 502 sinking, well, I ad to get to you double quick…and brought her along…she just kept on pointing and there you are!"
"And why should I believe you. You're apparently from the west.."
Crane snickered, "Cap'n, gypsies need no passport…you're in grave danger, we all are, but then, if you won't listen, "he prepared to ascend the ladder. "C'mon mum, you can take a leak on that excuse of a cabin cruiser we borrowed. I know I need to. We'll just drift along til antoher boat comes to elp us…so we can report the losss of this ere boat."
"Wait, "Luxor said, "I may think it'sall hocus pocus, but my men could use the amusement..."
"Sir, I've been checking…"Ski approached Morton, "there is a virus, but look here, it's spelled different from the one that port guy showed us…"
"Ski, I know you're upset, we all are, but misspellings happen all the time…"
"Even in official documents?"
"What are you getting at?"
"I mean, well, oh gee sir, you're gonna think I’m nuts or something, but…"
"Go on Kowalski. "
"Well, if I wanted to kidnap the bird that has the info, what better way than to walk right aboard and get it legal like…"
"The security check was verified, Kowalski, twice."
"Yes sir, but…even our government has leaks, and spies and things…and that health card photo of the bug could be bogus too."
"Commander Morton, " Sparks approached, "the transponder Commander Jackson fixed to Miss Edie's old earings is coming in loud and clear.… we have a constant fix on the admiral's location."
"I knew you were on top of things, sir!"Kowalski exclaimed, " Thank you sir!"
"I just hope I know what I'm doing, "Morton said to no-one in particular.
"What do you think you're doing Lee?"Mrs. Crane almost hissed after the two were shown to a guest cabin, with 'facilities'.
"Well, we can't very well have them know who we are, now can we,"he replied in a whisper as he fussed with the vent shaft. "Flush the toilet, there are probably guards outside the door, besides you did play a palm reader in a high school play…I think it worked. You always say I look like a gypsy….look, mom, we've got to stay aboard…I have to get word to Seaview…we have to rescue the Admiral and Edie, and most of all , we have to stop that parrot."
"Remind me never to take a vacation with you again!"she said exasperated, and kissed him, "hurry up and do whatever it is you're going to do, I'll keep running water and flushing."
"Oh Harry," Edith sobbed into her brother's shoulder. The room was bare "Do you think they knew?"
"No," he lied convincingly, "they probably just thought the injections were their annual vaccinations…" he really had his mind on other matters just now, like why this facility had no security procedures and was not identified by either address or signs, and hoping that Edith's earrings were transmitting properly.
"You two, over there, take off your clothes and put those on," the nurse commanded, indicating the thin examination gowns.
"I hardly think that's necessary, "Nelson bristled, "all we need is a simple blood test."
"Not if you're going into cryogenic freezing."
"No arguments! " she aimed a dart gun and fired, first at Nelson followed by Edith. They collapsed to the floor.
"Any problems here ?" the official asked.
"No, we'll have them transported immediately after freezing."
"Odd, Nelson was even cooperative, and insisted on giving them the lethal injections himself…. of course, he didn't know that it was only our special narcotic. It should have no lasting effect…the premier is most anxious," he laughed.
"Well, say something!" the premier screeched to her guests as she paced about her lush bedroom, as the American birds fluttered wings , but did not speak. "You'd better have an explanation!" she turned to the owner of the electronic voice, shuffling his feet .
"Madam Premier, "the birds were drugged to imitate death, and it has never had any ill effect on people before…they should be acting normally.."
"Well, they're not!"
"Perhaps the Nelsons will be able to explain it…
"When are they due??"
"They should be aloft as soon as Expresso Delivery ships them out of our 'research facility…" he smirked.
"Good. You may take your helicopter and go…we will pay you when it talks."
"What is the matter?" the captain watched as Agatha suddenly moaned at a table in the wardroom. Several men in were in attendance at the palm readings offered. She still wore the full skirt with the bangles and had added Lee's headgear, Even she had to admit she looked the part.
"She's in a trance…"Eb explained.
"How long does this take?"
"Depends, look cap'n, she said yer sub was going to sink. Why not walk with me alongside up and down yer craft and she'll be able to pick up any bad vibrations from yer boat to me. Then she can tell you exactly what's wrong with the craft so you can fix it."
"You are out of your mind. This is a military vessel, and you two are no more gypsies than I am…conn artists, actors, that's what you are."
She screamed. "Doom-ed! Doomed! Doomed!All who sail aboard! Is there no one who will pass the test of Damocles!"
"Utter nonsense, "Luxor saw the uneasy glances of his men, "this is a show, that's all. Here, "he handed Eb some money, "take this and go, both of you."
Sudenly the klaxton rang out.
"Hmmm..mph," Nelson snorted as he found himself awakening in a warm bathtub. He ached with 'pins and needles'and was momentarily confused…his wrists were strapped to the sides, as were his ankles.
"Edith? Edie? Can you hear me? Where are you??" he called out.
There was no answer.
"You are sure about this Madam Premier? He was good to us."
"Mercenaries are dangerous, their only loyalty is to money…do it."
The aide pressed a button and the helicopter blew up.
"Here, drink this, the confusion'll pass,"a slender hand decked out in expensive rings handed the terry-robed Edith Nelson a warm drink. She hesitated.
"A show of faith, "the woman took the drink to her lips and swallowed a good portion of it, then handed back the glass.
"Who are you? What is this place?" Edith looked through the windows, as the yacht felt the waves, ignoring the drink. Harry had told her of some of the techniques of brainwashing and she wasn't about to become compliant.
"Why am I here? Where's Harry?"
"Patience. Your brother is still in the final stages of thawing…he's rather…muscular,"she smirked in knowing pleasure. Turning to Edith, she added, "it takes a bit longer for a male's tissues to return to normal…we women are much more…pliable."
"Why are we here, damnit!"
"You must remember that you 're a guest here, and I can have you thrown to the dogs in an instant if you don't watch it."
"So what breed are you, a Rotwiler?"
Edith found herself splashed with vodka, her arm grabbed tightly.
"You have just earned yourself…never mind… you'll find out soon enough."
"Madam Premier, Nelson has awakened, and has been placed in the containment area, "a soldier entered the room.
"Good. Tell them to fumigate afterwards, now to continue my dear, "Your dossier says Miss Edith Abigail Horatia Nelson. You must have had a very proud papa and a submissive mother to be saddled with that name."
"I like it,"Edith replied with bravado.
"Doubtful. I do hope you don't get seasick. So unladylike. My yacht has stabilizers but is not one of the more luxurious cruise ships you westerners prefer.. so, All thawed out now? No more confusion?"
"You don't like me very well, do you?"
"Should I? My brother and I were kidnapped!Why?"
"I should think that is obvious, "she pressed a button and revealed an alcove.
"Penelope! You're alive! And…Chatterbox, ''she instantly named the parrot, ran to them , and stroked them. "what's wrong? "she noticed the change immediately, "Why aren't they responding? What have you done to them? '' The birds simply sat, mute.
"Me? I didn't give them the injections, big brother did that."
"So we were conned into this whole thing…why?"
"Just get them to talk, that's all I ask, then, you may take them away and go home."
"Just like that?""
"Just like that."
"I don't believe you. "
"You Americans are very irritating. Come along with me, I want to show you something."
"I have a schedule to keep Mr. Steele, despite your obviously talented mother, "the captain said sourly, "but since your boat is inoperable, you may accompany us to our capital where you will be turned over to a neutral embassy. There may be a delay as we are making a rendevoux with one of our countrymen on a supply mission."
"Ehh, that's a real treat mate, did you figure out what was wrong? "Eb asked, slapping the captain on the back. "Oh, sorry, didn't mean to make you wince."
"Let's get one thing clear Mr. Steele. I am referred to as captain, not mate. You are a passenger on the sub, and you will remain in these quarters unless accompanied by one of my men. Is that understood. My men are nervous enough already, with warning klaxtons of no apparent cause, without you lurking about."
"Of course captain, sorry," Eb said, sheepishly chastised, "but it 'twould only be for a bit and then you'd find the trouble and hey presto!"he said with enthusiasm.
"I'll consider it. "
"Do you realize what your'e asking me to do?" the ONI official on the control room video monitor asked Jackson. "A parrot has top secret information?? You don't even have proof. If you're right, this could develop into a sticky situation…world wide panic could set in, if it's true, which I greatly doubt. I think your imaginations are running away with you."
"What more proof do you need?? "
"You will continue your charting mission, is that understood, Commander."
"Is that understood? Damn this static!"the screan went blank.
"But Commander, "O''Brian asked, 'We can't just give up!"
"Who said anything about giving up…besides, I didn't hear any static did you? He was being bugged."
"Then this charting mission…the skipper's little stunt…ONI's been in on it all along…"
"Well, lets just say, they are now…prepare course to shadow the signal."
"Uh, what about Crane and the antennae?"
"No luck so far. Maybe its only a splinter."
"Hurry up Lee, you've been in there over an hour, they'll be here soon, " Lee's mother pressed her face as far in the vent as she could. It wasn't easy being short. Even standing on a chair she could barely reach the shaft.
"Almost, "Lee whispered as he rerouted some last remaining wires."There, done, this should keep them wondering, " he wormed his way out of the shaft and had barely sat down when they heard footsteps, "time for phase two. "
"I keep telling you Lee, there are no Welsh gypsies."
"I know that, but I doubt if Luxor knows it. remember, you're Madam Agatha, a descendant of Merlin the Magician and you have had a vision..."
Kowalski set the clean laundry on the captain's bunk, a lot of good it would do him, he thought sourly. He was just about to leave when he noticed something glitter on the captain's desk.
Holding up the skipper's ring, he was uneasy. The skipper always wore it, this possession of a lifetime…he ran a gentle finger over the fine filigree edges and appreciated the onyx stone…not a very good one. Probably not worth very much…it even had a pinprick hole…a hole?
"Harry!"Edith saw her brother on a video monitor, in a wheelchair, in a darkened room with a light on him alone. He looked weary, and was trembling, despite his warm pajamas and velur robe. "Harry, are you all right?"
"I…cant seem to stop shaking.."
"That's right, he can't, it is the first of a series of drugs used to allow us to glean information during…interrogation. Similar to the more common truth serums, it soon causes its recipients to develop into severe muscle spasms, and loss of mental and bodily functions. He is what you would call a dividend. We were only after you, but his knowledge and his standing in top secret affairs will come in most useful.
Now, I can spare him the more upsetting symptoms and use the more normal of our serums and techniques, but only if you cooperate."
"Don’t' listen to her Edie, the price is too high."
"Cooperate?"she ignored him.
"Get the blasted birds to talk! I need that formula! Or big brother will become a blithering idiot."
"You realize that this may only be a pinprick," Morton held the ring under a magnifying glass.
"Yes sir, but…"
"Sir,"O'Brian approached, and handed Morton the skipper's sliver.
"Thanks, Okay Ski, do the honors," Morton smiled, as the crewman screwed in the small sliver into the hole in the ring.
"Sparks, prepare for anything,"Morton called out, as everyone in the control room tensed….and the emergency location signal pings began.
"But cap'n!" Eb took the man's arm in the control room, " she saw it in a vision! When yer boat fired, it exploded and everyone died. Horrible deaths too, so they were, she said, blood and guts everywhere." Eb said sadly.
"And how am I to know that you two aren't' spies? Sent here to steal my country's secrets? And you chief know these two are supposed to be guarded. You had no business bringing them here."
"But she had a…a…vision…"
"That I did, "Agatha piped up, "I'd make a good spy too, luv, now that you mention it, "she sidled up to the captain suggestively. "but I did see it, I did, Please believe me…"she pleaded with the captain. Quickly she reverted to Madam Agatha, "Unless you take the sword of Damocles and destroy it, you'll be doomed" She gasped, again herself….sorry, it comes on me sudden like. Captain, please, Find this …this….thing hidden on yer boat and destroy it, then you'll be safe, and everyone aboard. Trust me."
"Captain…"the chief asked, "maybe we should check the boat, just in case."
"Is everyone aboard as stupid as you?"
"Maybe sir, but it wouldn't hurt to check."
"Oh, very well, but if there is nothing, you will face the premier's wrath! Lock them both up while you check"
The klaxton rang.
"Damage control, report!"
"There's nothing wrong sir, and…"the voice was lost as the boat lurched to port.
For the next few minutes there was controlled chaos as the men checked and rechecked their instruments as the craft resumed its stability.
Basically forgotten were their two guests. Eb leaned against the communications center and began to nervously tap the metal with his ring.
"Hey, stop that!"the communications officer commanded.
"Uh, sorry,"he twisted his ring off, " nervous habit that…this here, oops."his ring fell between the unit and another console. "Sorry,"Eb leaned down to retrieve it, managing to encase it further under the console. "I uh, can't seem to get it. No never mind, it's worthless…just a bit of fluff." Worth more than $27,000, this duplicate ring and all it's little gadgets, but who's counting, Lee thought.
"Mr. Morton!"Sparks called out. "Listen to this!"
There for all to hear were the pings and noises of another craft along with some interesting conversations…….
"Well? " Luxor ordered.
"We cant'find anything wrong sir!" the XO reported, as the klaxton rang out again.
"Ohhhhh, "Agatha droned, " Ohhhhhh. The sword. The sword 'angs high…."
"You've got ta believe er cap'n!"Eb added.
"Shut up! Both of you! Get that alarm turned off!"
The boat kept lurching, more often, harder.
"Damn it !"
"Look, cap'n, 'Eb's voice came through, "the curse is real or mum wouldn't have gone all trancy again…she saw yer boat go all wacko, doing things on it's own…and it is."
Another lurch as the periscope began to turn in circles, faster and faster.
" I do not believe in curses and think you two should be committed!"
"The feather! The feather!, "Agatha droned, "doomed! doomed! All who touch or seek the green feather!"
"Get these nuts out of here!"the captain ordered. "And lock them in!"
"Your funeral, cap'n,"Eb said. "when yer own boat blows up that fancy yacht yer meeting 5 miles or so from ére you'll go up too..pity..all these innocent men, and those Nelson guests aboard your premier's yacht, her too, and her pet parrot."
"Captain!"the Chief pleaded. "at least let them try to help us! We can't fire at the premier!And the bird! It has green feathers! We're doomed if we don't disable our system!"
"Our systems our infallible!"
"But she said she saw our torpedo's fired…"
"Is that a mutiny chief?"
The boat lurched again. Sparks started to flare from some of the consoles. Some of the men left their posts to stand behind the chief.
"You men return to your posts!"the XO shouted.
The klaxton rang out again.
"I thought I told you to turn that thing off!"the captain yelled.
"It won't, no-one can turn off a curse, "Eb said, "its too late…we're doomed…"
Suddenly the captain clutched his stomach and groaned in pain, quickly passing out.
"Ahh, "Eb said, "there is no escape now, not even if he'd wanted to," that wasn't quite true, it would feign death for a while, but the drug from his ring's prick hadn't been lethal.
"I'm taking over!"the chief yelled, his shipmates behind him. "Put the captain and XO in the brig…no, the isolation ward, please Madam Agatha, tell us how to stop this…how to save our lives."
The klaxon stopped and the boat stilled, to the gasps of the crew…
Eb offered his arm to Agatha, and secretly took his thumb off the small microdot he'd swiped to send the 'stop'command to the the rerouted wire job.
"So, "Morton asked Jackson, as he paced the observation nose, "this madam agatha…is Lee's mom?"
"Willow Glenn Players, "The Night of Dreams", she aced it…despite the play's critics. Said her accent was abominable…"
"So is Lee's,"Morton added, " Yes, O'brian?"
"We've triangulated the positions of both the admiral and the enemy sub. We'll be in the area in about an two hours."
"Make all preparations for possible attack…just in case the skipper can't disable the sub. The yacht's bound to be under heavy guard and artillery…we may have to fire on it…we can't let the bird live if we can't get it out of there."
"And the admiral sir, and Miss Edie?"
"Expendable, "Morton sighed.
"That's it then?"the chief asked.
Eb was putting a final touch on the ínfallible'controls of the sub's firing system.
"I sense…I sense…"Madam Agatha hesitated.
"What is it ?? What is it??"the chief shouted, scared.
"Don’t touch her!"Eb locked the unit, "let me take her to the cabin…she'll tell us about it when she comes out of the trance…in the meantime, "he scooped her up in his arms, "say noting to the premier…we don't want to worry her needlessly, especially about the captain and his…problem."
"Well?" Mrs. Crane asked, as Lee locked the cabin door.
"I can hear the applause all the way to Broadway…now, we stall while we figure out how to rescue the Nelsons and the bird and get out of here without being shot."
"I thought you had this all planned out!"
"Who do you think I am, James Bond?"
"No."Edith answered for the fifth time.
"My dear, I mean what I say. Get your birds to talk, or your brother will die a horrible death. So will you."
"So be it, at least my conscious will be clear."
"Madam Premier, "the yacht's captain approached, "we have Luxor's boat on sonar and have hailed him, but there is no reply."
"Odd. Any other boats in the area?"
"None that we can see, though the SeaWolf class and a few other western subs are sonar resistant."
"Hmmm. Demand Luxor to respond or he will be fired upon. I give them five minutes. In case it is a mechanical problem."
"Madam Agatha out of her trance yet? "the chief said at the cabin door as Eb answered and Agatha moaned on the bunk.
"No, not yet, what is it chief?"
"We're being hailed by the premier's yacht, they wants us to respond to their signal…and will blow us up if we don't…"
"We'll be there in a moment…I will force madam Agatha to wake. Tell them a moment…"
"Okay, now what James?" Mother asked, sitting up, after the chief had left, as Lee put on the homespun and headgear.
"Luxor is unconcsious,"the yacht's captain relayed to the premier, "he's in medical quarantine, and they've had problems,however, the crew has obtained a gypsy for you who can remove curses and,"he laughed, "who has told them you are in grave danger because of this bird business. They're afraid their boat is going to sink!"
"Gypsy? They are mocking you, Igor."
"So I like to think, but she spoke to me on the mike, this gypsy. Maybe Luxor is onto something…"
"You are no longer going to receive cable at my expense…" she walked around the perch where the two birds simply sat, silent. "but it could be interesting. At this point I'll try about anything."
The two gypsies were escorted aboard the yacht. Eb noticed the guards at one of the compartment's doors. Armed. Perhaps the premier's private quarters or perhaps the Nelson's were incarcerated there.
"In here,"the steward indicated.
Both gypsies bowed graciously. Lee prayed the premier had no idea what he looked like clean shaven and minus robes on official documents.
"You may go, but stay outside the door,"the premier ordered the steward.
"I understand you have a warning for me?"the premier asked.
"There's a curse , "Madam Agatha said, "A curse that will destroy all aboard this ere boat, as those of the submarine well know. I saw it all! In my trance. A gift. You must set the birds free. "
"I hardly call a few sputtering machines and sickness a curse, over here woman, I want you to look at this bird…"
"Aghhh!"Madam Agatha shielded her eyes, "the green feathers! Look not upon the green feathers!"
"Are you quite mad? You, there, what do you have to say about this?"
"She's never wrong..."he too shielded his eyes.
"Why? What curse? What rigamarole is this?" the premier stroked the parrot. "It's quite harmless…"
" Harmless? One nip and it will kill!" Eb fiegned fear.
"Oh, don't be silly, it's perfectly healthy. My own veterinarian certified it."
"It causes madness! Madness!" Eb approached, draped in his shielding headgear.
"Can you or can you not get the birds to talk?"the premier demanded dangerously of Madam Agatha.
"Oh luv, I came ere only to warn you…unless you free the birds of the air, you are doomed."
"Oh, get out of here you charlatans," she was about to press a signal for the steward when Ebs strong hand prevented it.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Crane's voice came through.
"There they are, quiet as mice."Morton mused, spying both boats through the periscope.
"Should we surface?"O'brian asked.
"No, not yet, but prepare to. "
Madam Agatha sauntered down the companionway, with both birds still chained to their perch, held in her hands when she stopped at the guarded door. "Open it, the premier's orders. The prisoners, take them to her…she wishes to see them. Then tell the captain to report to her. The birds need a little fresh air."
The guards jumped to obey.
Looking back with some trepidation, she did as Lee asked and headed toward the deck, after a quick stop aft.
"I keep telling you that I won't…" Edith turned as Lee knocked both guards out, grabbed the wheelchair bound admiral, swung him in the room, and locked the door.
"Get the weapons."
"Lee!" Edith exclaimed.
"The admiral? Is he okay?"
"Yes, no, I'm not sure, she gave him something…he can't talk just now…what did you do to her?"
"Sorry, had no choice…" he glanced at the premier, no match for an upper cut to the jaw. He hated to do that to a woman, even an enemy…but he'd had no choice.
There was a knock on the door.
At a signal from crane, Edith moved harry out of sight.
Crane opened the door and bowed, then held a gun to the captain's face.
"Order Luxor's men to abandon ship, then your own.Make sure the order comes from Madam Agatha and the premier."
"Never!What have you done to her?"
"Nothing you wouldn’t have done in the same circumstance. Do it, or you and she die," Lee took out the capsule from a pocket. "I believe you know what this is?"
The captain said nothing.
"Very well, you've made your choice…"he grabbed the premier's head up and opened her mouth, and inserted his hand.
"No! Wait! Give me the mike!"
"No tricks or she's dead, and I blow up your boat, even now an agent is attaching a nuclear charge,"Lee menaced, even though it was only a simple cross wiring to cause an explosion.
"This is the captain. Get me a ship to ship transmission…..on? Abandon ships, all hands, abandon ships, no questions, no delays. By order of Madam Agatha and the Premier."
Lee nudged him.
"Do not interfere with the…other guests…"
Edith took the mike. "what do we do about him?"
"Your guess is as good as mine, you want to do the honors or should I?"
"My pleasure!"she took Crane's gun and whacked it against the back of the captain's head.
"Where have you been, where's Lee?"Mrs crane asked as Edith pushed Nelson topside.
"Taking…care…of business…"Nelson managed to speak.
Declining the last lifeboat, they waited, and saw a sudden plume of smoke burst from the submarine…
"I hope he hurries up…" Mrs Crane said.
"No problem, "Lee dragged the captain toward the rail. Placing a life vest on the captain, he pulled the man up and flung him overboard…"don't worry Mom, he won't drown." The other two guards Lee dragged forward quickly followed and then Lee departed and emerged yet again, this time lugging the groggy and handcuffed prisoner forward.…."As for the premier…may I introduce…the great..." Crane removed a latex mask, "impostor!"
"A man!"nelson gasped.
"Apparently the real premier is elsewhere. No matter, I'm sure the west will have ways to obtain the whys."
"Lee, I hate to interrupt, but…"Mrs. Crane pointed to the submarine, smoke pouring from her ballast tanks.
"Oh don't worry, Mom. She's not going to explode or anything like that."
"One of your booby traps no doubt."
"No doubt.However, this boat is going to blow up…where the blazes is Seaview?"
As if in answer to her captain, the silver submarine surfaced on the other side of the yacht, and the group wearily disembarked, aided by a very relieved and observant crew.
The tanker that was called by an anonymous ship to pick up the survivors saw burnt debris and a lopsided sub, and confusion about 'the gypsies'. After depositing the survivors at their embassies in Morocco, no more was said about the incident.
"Well?" Nelson asked, cleared from Sickbay, all traces of his drug induced deficiencies gone, as he sat down next to the gurney where Crane, showered and shaved, and toweled was being treated for his injuries.
"Quiet please, both of you, "Doc Jamision ordered, as he and his corpsman applied heavy antiseptics onto Crane's wounds. "A little more , sorry Captain, this will hurt."
"Why Lee, I thought you were immune to pain!"Mrs Cane mocked.
"I said I was immune to death, not pain, there's a difference you know…but…actually mom, I lied…you should get used to the idea…one of these days…"
"Well, if you insist on remaining an agent!"
"It wasn't an assignment!"
"Lee, good to see you!"Jackson interrupted, as he strolled in.
"Joe! What are you doing here?" crane asked, and smiled, and tried to get off the gurney.
"Out! All of you out! Right now!"the doctor shouted, mad," Article 14 section 98 of the NIMR code. You too admiral!"
"I think we've been busted,"nelson sighed, "very well, but as soon as he's able, I want a full debriefing."
"Yes yes, now go,"doc fussed and got back to his patient.
It was a party mood aboard Seaview, especially as it was revealed that the impostor had been doing this sort of thing for other world leaders, at a price. All it took was a higher offer of money for all the secret dealings to be revealed, and the man was in CIA custody now.
"Well,"Lee sipped some hot chocolate, with Nelson in the observation nose,"You know admiral, applying that second chemical into the original injection to restrict the vocal chords was sheer genius…how is Edie taking it? The birds not talking yet? She's had Penelope a long time."
"She''ll learn to live with it, "Edith strolled down the spiral steps with both birds, "though I admit I miss my chatterboxes…how are you doing Lee?"
"I'll live, in fact I'm treating you all to a show…in London."
"London?" Nelson cocked an eyebrow.
Crane handed Nelson a communiqué. "Orders. But while we're there, why not?"
"Lee, this is from MI 5."
"It was a mission, wasn't it? An international assignment! Out with it!" Edith demanded.
"How many times do we have to go through this? I was not on assignment!"
"My son, James Bond,"Mrs Crane came through the control room. "you might as well give up my dear, he'll never admit it."
"You wanted to see me skipper?" Kowalski asked as he was given permission to enter the captain's cabin.
"Yes, Ski, please, sit down…I just wanted to thank you for your quick thinking. I don't know if too many others aboard would have been so insightful."
"Aw, heck sir, I mean, it was just common sense."
"Anyway, I've recommended you for a citation and when Admiral Bricker asked if I had any men aboard who might like to apply for ONI training I sent your name in and…what is it ski, are you ill, you look a bit pale."
"Uh, sir, uh, I mean, well…I'm happy where I am skipper, honest. I wouldn't dream of joining ONI, I mean, I'd have to be away from Seaview a lot and…"
"I see. Yes. Hmmm. You would have to be away a lot…we'd have to get a replacement trained…yes, you're absolutely right Ski, you're needed here, I'm afraid I just can't let you go…that's all. You can go now…oh, and Ski?"
Edith and Mrs. Crane sat in relative silence as the rest of the audience stomped, and yelled and applauded as the show went on. Nelson stared in sheer horror. Jackson was totally delighted, and Morton was clapping his hands.
Edith was about to excuse herself when Crane held her back.
"Wait," he said.
The stage lights lowered then brightened, revealing a pretty girl in green feathers with a parrot on her shoulder and a Cocketel on her head. The strip tease was demonstrative to say the least and frankly Edith was appalled at the suggestive gyrations. But when the parrot began to squawk "I THOUGHT I SAW A PUDDY TAT! And "FRANKLY MY DEAR, I DON'T GIVE A DAMN!" when she twirled her pasties, Edith looked at Lee questioning.
"Let's go backstage. I want you to meet someone."
"Ahhh, Mr. Crane, so nice to see you…"
"Abdul Ackmed, my card,"he showed Edith his shiny badge.
"You are the only other person besides Crane here that knows. I am sure you will keep it a secret…good. I could not let your brother know more when he came to Rabat, because I was being watched. I still am.
I informed Lee about Liddy, that's her real name, buying the doctor's bird. Don't worry. We have the formula. As soon as your brother's antidote began to work, the bird revealed the information we needed and Nelson and Crane here got it to us in code, while injecting your birds yet again to quiet them temporarily.
I'm sorry they had to keep it a secret for so long. But until we placed the formula in our computer and found out it was nonsensical and totally unworkable, you were in as much danger as everyone aboard."
"So there is no super a bomb formula after all?"
"Oh, what a relief…"
"Oh, hello there!" Lilly Lollipop entered and placed a kiss on Lee's mouth." I thought I'd never see you again…"
"May I introduce Miss Nelson,"Abdul said, "so good of her to loan you her birds for the show tonight."
"Oh, thank you ! They're wonderful! I'm sorry I sold the parrot, he's a real gem..I don't suppose you'd care to sell him back…no, I can tell…you love the little bugger don't you."
Before she could answer, both birds flew to Edith and sat contented on her shoulders.
"When Abdul here said I should come home to London, I could hardly believe my luck…" Liddy said fondly.
"Curtain for finale…curtain for finale, "a voice droned.
"Well, gotta run, no, I don't need the birds for this part, thanks again….I hope to see you again sometime soon too,"she winked at Crane and was gone.
"Well,"Edith said, " I must rejoin Mrs Crane…Lee?"
"You go ahead, I'll meet you in the lobby when it's over."
Lee exhaled, waited for Edith to leave and poured himself a brandy, and looked at Abul, "well?"he whispered, " Is the formula a bust?"
Abdul shook his head 'no'and ran a finger across his neck…but said,"yes."
"I see. Well, "he said loudly "at least the world is safe for democracy….next time, call James Bond."
"But Crane, that is your handle you know…"
"Only in cheap fiction,"Lee winked and departed. All agents were 'handled' as the ficticous name.
"Man oh man, am I ever glad that's all over and we can get in some shore leave!" Patterson groaned as he heaved up his duffle bag in the crew's quarters. The boat had docked in Santa Barbara over an hour ago and he was anxious to get away.
"You and me and everyone!"Ski followed suit.
"You know Pat, that fancy show we went to in London..the one with the strippers…didn't that girl look familiar?"
"Familiar?? Could have been her twin or maybe…and….guess who was in the audience!"
"Right there in the front row with Miss Edith and his Mom, and Mr. Morton, and the Admrial and Mr. Jefferson! The skipper, bold as brass…and he went backstage..with Miss Edith!"
"Maybe he just wanted her autograph, "the chief interrupted, "c'mon, enough on the skipper…besides, they were Miss Edith's birds weren't they…"
"Okay chief, but still…what a libido!" Patterson said in awe.
"Yeah, "Ski pondered…all about maybe, just maybe he should take up the skipper's offer for ONI training after all.
"Ahh. Pure unrevitalized air at last, "Lee sat on the edge of Nelson's desk.
"Oh, there you two are,"Morton handed Lee the clipboard, "she's all tucked in Lee, not that you didn't die waiting to pat her bulkhead and whisper sweet nothings in her ear, when nobody was looking."
"What are you talking about?"Nelson asked, bewildered.
"Oh, the skipper here…"he stopped as Lee gave him a warning glare. So far only Chip knew of his little pats of encouragement to the sub, "Never mind, are you ready for your presents? I left them here someplace…ahhh…there we are…"
Nelson opened his brightly wrapped present and pulled out a 'Sebastian the Crab' t-shirt.
"Appropriate, don't you think?"Morton asked dangerously. "Now you Lee."
Crane ripped his present open and stared at it dumbfounded, his face reddening.
" Oh, Chip, this is lovely," Edith interupted, entering the office showing off her t-shirt of 'Diego, the pet parrot of 'Aladin'.
"Go on Lee, let's see it, "Nelson commanded.
There in all it's glory was a charicature of Seaview, with a face, her manta wings upturned in a smile, under which "My Best Girl"was emblazoned.
"Actually I drew it, "Chip admitted, "I just couldn’t think of anything else…you don't have to wear it Lee…"
Lee snickered, then began to laugh…"she is you know."
"We know, Lee, we know."the group said in unison.
"Lee?"Mrs. Crane entered the room, "I just got the strangest phone call, from a Mr. Bricker. He said he had a proposition for me…what is it…why are you turning green? Lee? Lee?"
"Madam Agatha, may I escort you to dinner?"Nelson offered his arm.
"He's fine…aren't you….Mr. Bond?"
"Uh, fine…Mom? You're not really thinking of meeting him, are you?"
"Why Lee, that depends on the proposition, "she winked at Nelson, both knowing full well what the proposition had been. "Besides, my career as Madam Agatha has…possibilities."
* Tweety Bird ( I thought I saw a puddy tat) is a registered trademark for Warner Bros.
**Rhett Butler ( Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn) is a character from Gone With the Wind, produced by David O Selznick, distributed by MGM
*** Goofy, King Trident, Donald Duck, Sebastian, and Diego are registered trademarks for Disney Co.
****(The Tiny Ship Was Tossed) is the theme song for the TV series Gilligan's Island.