Note: Chapter 15 contains acts of violence that some may find too graphic. I’ve done my best to leave as much to the imagination as possible, while conveying the essential terror of the situation. You be the judge. Read, skip, or skim. Also, this is a standalone story that does not relate to any of my prior Voyage stories. It was in fact started long before “Shadows of the Past” and “The Red Menace”. Hope you enjoy.
Chapter 1 - Missing
“Where the dickens can he be?”
“Telephone lines are down throughout much of New England, Admiral. I’m sure he’s fine.”
“The hell you are!”
“He always turns up, sir.”
“We’re due to leave port in sixteen hours and we’ve had no word!”
“I can try the Coast Guard again.”
“What the hell was he thinking sailing solo with a hurricane off shore?”
“In all fairness, Admiral, every forecaster said it was heading away from land. None predicted the sudden turn back. It caught a lot of people unprepared.”
“He’s not a lot of people. He should know better. I trust him with one of the world’s largest and most expensive boats. What kind of judgment does he show?”
“He’s never been one to take the same care when it’s just him, sir, you know that. In truth, I should have stayed behind with him to help him settle things.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You have responsibilities that can’t be shirked, added to his when he’s away. Frankly, if anyone is to blame for him going off by himself so long, it’s me. I should have been more supportive. Six weeks from diagnosis to death and his mother didn’t even tell him until she was in hospice care the last week. He looked like hell when we left the funeral. I should have insisted he’d come back with us. I could have arranged help for someone to close up the ruddy summer house and deal with the legal matters. Then he’d be back by now.”
“I don’t think this is a productive train of thought, Admiral. You can’t exactly control someone else’s grieving.”
“I should have tried. All right, get on the horn with the Coast Guard again. No, better still, let me talk to them this time.”
“Yes, sir. Just do be aware that dozens of fishing and lobster boats got caught unawares too. They have their hands full.”
“It’s a sorry mess, Chip.”
Chapter 2 - Shipwrecked
Loud and insistent barking broke the silence of the early October day. The roaring winds and thunderheads of the prior day had disappeared. They had been supplanted by cloudless stillness. The sky’s hue -- a clear, bright blue -- beamed in marked contrast to the prior day’s eerie gray-green skies.
The salt box house was not one of the hurricane’s serious victims. It still stood proud and upright, as it had for over a hundred years. A few roof shingles needed to be replaced, some shutters needed repair, and the basement would be damper than usual for months to come. The grounds, however, were a mess. Small trees, shrubs, branches and leaf litter were strewn wildly around the house and the grounds.
The German shepherd paid no heed to the debris as he sailed through the air from the porch to the lawn. He slowed down only slightly as he descended the stairs -- twenty-five steep feet down -- toward the dock. The dog was out of sight from the house by the time a lone figure holding a shotgun exited the house.
The unseen dog froze as commanded, but continued his furious barking.
“Quiet!” his master ordered as she neared at the top of the steep wooden steps curious to see what had so irritated the dog. Buster had stopped on the last step before the water covered the remaining steps and the dock itself. All that was visible of the dock were four tall pilings, two front and back. Off to the left, a daysailer swung between the two pilings to which it had been lashed higher than usual.
Buster’s attention was fixed right, however, toward the mouth of the river.
“Good lord!” the woman exclaimed. She loosened her grip on the gun and gently placed it on the lawn by the landing. From a box at the top of the stairs, she grabbed two soaking wet lines before she hurried down the stairs onto the submerged dock. The sideways wind of the storm had infiltrated the lid of the box much like it had window and door sills of the salt box house.
“Permission for emergency docking, please,” the figure clad in oil cloth pants and a black t-shirt asked in a weary voice. “Barring that, permission to crash, although that’s likely the alternative even without permission.”
“Of course.” She shook her head in astonishment before she moved into action. She waded down the last few steps knowing the bottom was coming only because of the location of the railing. A modest current into the cove pushed her to the left as she waded toward the far piling to get in the best position to throw a line.
She studied the scene as she waited for him to come in a little closer. He was only slightly less bedraggled than the boat on which he arrived. The boat’s condition was nothing short of a sin to a lover of sailboats. The classic lines were still there, but her once beautiful wooden mast had splintered down to a mere five feet. The remainder of the mast had fallen in a straight line sternward, crushing through the teak deck and the cabin entry hatch. The charred mast barred access to most of the cockpit, including the tiller, and hung fifteen feet beyond the stern. A short jerry-rigged sail, about four feet in height, was lashed to the remnants of the mast and to a starboard docking cleat amidship. Whatever wind might have filled it earlier had died completely away as it entered the sheltered cove. Only the current from the storm surge pushed it ahead now.
When the man was about twenty feet from the end of the dock, she tossed the line. It fell over the safety line onto the deck, but slightly off target, luckily not so far that it couldn’t be easily recovered. The man stumbled stepped forward, grunted and caught the safety line on the bow to stop himself from tumbling overboard.
“Sorry. I’m out of practice.”
The man bent sideways, picked up the dripping line, and cleated it off the bow. In hopes of avoiding further jarring, he remained in that bent over position until the woman pulled the craft toward the dock. The stern of the boat fought her all the way, trying to turn sideways and bash the end of the dock. She finally managed to guide the boat in closely enough to the piling to board at the bow. From there, it was no small exertion to step up from the submerged dock to the boat riding two feet above the water line. After she pushed the second line under the rail, she grabbed a stanchion with one hand and the lowest safety line with the other and hauled herself above the water line before climbing over the higher safety line. The man reached out a hand to help her. “Thanks, but I can manage from here. You look all in.”
The man’s face said it all. He’d done an amazing job getting the sailboat to safety, but it was clear there was nothing left. “I’ll get the stern set up.”
“I appreciate it,” the man nodded. “Let me know what I can do to help.”
She walked around him and carefully worked her way toward the starboard side of the stern. The cockpit was a sorry mess, the fine teak decking shattered everywhere. She maneuvered along the narrow decking, cleated off the line and walked back up to the bow bringing the line outside the safety rail. “Hand this to me when I get back down.”
“I could do it.”
“You look so tired the current might sweep you away. Just hand it to me when I ask, please.” She once again topped the safety line. At least getting off the boat was far easier than getting on it. Once back on the dock, she asked for the line and walked it back to the opposite piling. “Do you think you could manage to let the bow line out a few feet when I ask?”
“To get to land, I would do almost anything right now.”
She looped the line a couple of turns around the piling securing it with a half hitch for now.
“Now?” the man beat her to the punch.
As he loosened the bow line, she pulled the stern line in to bring it close to the end of the dock. She tied it off with two half-hitches. The man, without being asked, adjusted the bow line, bringing the boat in close enough to get down on the submerged dock, and secured the line on the cleat.
“Many thanks. Don’t suppose I could also trouble you for use of your telephone and maybe a dry towel and a cup of coffee?”
“I can give you two of three. Phones went down with the storm. Power too, but I can rustle up coffee and a dry towel too. How badly are you hurt?”
“I just strained my calf muscle a bit.”
She took note of a seeping pinkish slash in the left sleeve of his shirt that he failed to mention and wondered what else he might be ignoring. “Let me help you ashore.”
“I can manage,” he smiled.
She was taken aback by how handsome he suddenly looked when he smiled. “I’m sure you can, but it’s a steep step down and a steep walk up, so why not save your energy for that? I don’t expect you’ve got much left.”
She once again hauled herself out of the water over the safety line. Once aboard, she pulled the cotter pins off the safety lines from one side of the stanchion to ease his disembarkation. She offered her shoulder and arm to support him to sitting without putting weight on the leg. The she stepped to the side of him, sat herself down and slid down to touch the bottom of the dock with relative ease. She again offered her support to him. He took it without argument. The dog barked furiously.
“Quiet, Buster. He’s had enough to deal with already.” The dog obeyed.
“He’s a beauty,” the man said as he straightened up, attempting to conceal a wince.
“Anything aboard you need before we head up?”
“Nothing I can’t live without.”
“Seriously, is there any chance you have dry clothes down there? I don’t have anything up at the house that will suit you and it could be a few days before we can get you into town.”
“Did the storm cause a lot of damage?”
“The roads are impassable. Power lines are down everywhere.”
“How far is town?”
“I’ll manage without what’s below. It’s too much to ask.”
“It won’t be the first time I’ve dropped down a fore hatch. Tell me -- no more arguing -- what’s worth salvaging down there.”
“My clothes are in the forward locker.” She boarded as he spoke. “Oh, and my service revolver is in the drawer beneath the bunk, if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, I’d ask how you know, but . . .”
“You don’t look like Coast Guard, but seriously, the ring.”
“It can wait, really it can.”
“No, I’m afraid she’ll be sitting on the bottom in a few of hours the way she’s taking on water.”
“Sad. She was a beauty. Not many like her left.”
The woman hauled her body aboard one more time and disappeared down the hatch. Once she was out of sight, the dog started barking again, and then leapt on to the dock. When he could not get purchase on the dock with his feet, he started to swim. He ignored the man and headed directly for the opening in the safety rail somehow clawing and climbing his way up onto the deck. He stuck his head down the hatch and barked.
“Buster, you silly dog! Quiet.” A minute passed with the dog waiting silently over the hatch. She pushed a duffel bag out of the hatch. Buster took it in his teeth and immediately jumped off the boat, swam with the bag’s handle in his teeth keeping the bag mostly above water until he reached the stairs. He flew up the stairs with the bag still firmly in his teeth.
The woman emerged moments later, panting a little at the effort of pulling her body directly upwards through the hatch. “Those are muscles I haven’t used that way for a long time,” she said as she paused atop the foredeck. “Hey, where’s the bag?”
“Your dog took it.”
“I don’t know what’s got into him. Damn. It’ll be soaked.”
“He did a heck of a job keeping it mostly above water. It’s fine.”
She sat down wearily on the deck before she lowered herself down to the dock. “Here, lean on me for the dock and stairs.”
“You are too kind.”
They took the waterlogged walk along the dock and the steps slowly. The dog waited at the top with the bag still in his teeth. “Buster, go to the house, now.” The dog trotted ahead immediately.
“Quite the well-trained dog.”
“When he wants to be. Why don’t you sit on the box a moment and rest?”
“Given you’re about to accept my hospitality, I don’t appreciate the lie.”
“All right, I’m worried that if I stop now, I might not make it the rest of the way.”
“Fair enough. Put your arm on my shoulder then.”
They moved forward slowly and silently. She had a million questions, but she had already ascertained several facts about the man. He had to be a hell of a sailor to rig the boat as he had and to get it to safety; he was physically tough; and he seemed -- gun possession aside -- completely non-threatening. Based on this assessment, she decided to get him inside first and to retrieve her shotgun later.
As they arrived near the porch, the man accepted less support from her, using the opportunity to test the extent of the leg injury. “Lovely house. How old is she?”
“Built in the 1880s. Charming, but drafty as hell. Just a few more steps and we’re in.” They lumbered up the back porch.
“I should take these off first. Must be a gallon of water inside.” He pulled his oilcloth pants down below his bottom before assuming a seat on a slightly soggy bench outside the door. The woman got down to assist him remove the boots without being asked. Water spurted on to her. “I’m so sorry.”
“Should have seen that coming!” she laughed. She pulled the rest of the oilskin pants off him next.
“They ceased to work a while ago,” he admitted. His lower pant legs were soaked through.
“I can bring you a towel and a robe if you want to take those sodden clothes off here.”
“Thanks. I’d hate to soak those beautiful floors.”
“Buster drops enough slobber on them that I doubt you could do any more damage.” Nevertheless, she headed inside for the towel and robe trailed by Buster. She came back out a minute later with a small table upon which she had laid a basket containing a robe and towel, a roll of gauze, cotton balls and a bottle of Mercurochrome. “This will sting.”
“What happened to your arm?”
“I was trying to outrun the storm, but then it caught up and I was dropping the spinnaker through the forward hatch when the mast broke. A busted halyard caught my arm.”
She dabbed the four inch oozing slice with the Mercurochrome as he spoke. “If that was as long ago as I think this probably needs stitches.”
“I don’t supposed I happened to find the dock of an MD?”
“Well, then we’ll just have to wrap it and hope for the best.”
The woman wrapped it tightly. “If you can manage the robe yourself, I’ll go start some coffee.”
“I think I can.”
“You can warm up by the wood stove after you get out of those things. You must be chilled to the bone.”
“Hadn’t noticed before, but yes, I am.”
“You were too busy trying to stay alive to notice before now.”
A few minutes later, with his lower half covered by a towel and the rest mostly covered by a practical flannel robe, the man reached to open the door. Buster barked fiercely.
“Down, Buster. He’s okay.”
“Well, you don’t really know that. He’s just being a good dog. Aren’t you, Buster?”
The woman pushed the door open. As the man entered, Buster nuzzled and sniffed him. The man extended a folded hand toward Buster for approval.
Buster complied with her command and allowed the man to pet him.
“Take this chair.” She pointed to a bentwood one by the wood stove.
The man walked toward it gingerly, dragging his left leg so as not to flex his foot. After he sat, she pulled over a caned footstool that clashed with the modern chair. She helped him bring his leg up atop a thin pillow.
“A little swelling, but not bad. Cold water in the boots probably helped.”
“It didn’t seem like a help at the time.”
“We’ll tape that, just to be careful.”
“You sure you’re not a doctor?”
She hesitated noticeably. “No, but I was a Girl Scout, a long time ago.”
He noted her odd response to a simple question, and then remembered that he’d been met by a threateningly barking dog and there had been that shotgun lying on the grass at the top of the steps. Down Easterners were a strange lot, he remembered. The woman had been pleasant and kind, but had yet to disclose any personal information. Then again, neither had he.
She left him to get him coffee.
“Manna from heaven. Thank you.”
Without saying a word, she left again, returning with an Ace bandage. She wrapped his leg from the bottom of his foot up to below his knee so his foot would stay unflexed.
“Feels better already. I’m Lee,” he said, “and I greatly appreciate the help and hospitality.”
“Katherine, um, Kate, Kate is fine.”
“You sure now?” he smiled disarmingly.
“I don’t really go by name much out here. Buster can’t wrap his tongue around the letter ‘k’ so well.”
“Not for miles.”
“What’s wow about that?”
“Navy man here, remember? I’ve spent most of my life in close quarters. Did you grow up here?”
“I didn’t think so. I’d guess Connecticut.”
“How did you come to be all the way up here?”
Lee noticed the deflection, but as a polite guest went with it. “This was my idea of unwinding.”
“Sailing through a hurricane?”
“No. My mother, she died a short while ago. She has, had, a small summer house Midcoast. I came to close it up for winter. Thought I’d stay a few days and enjoy the coastline, but the sea called. The weather forecast missed the mark.”
“The storm pushed back in. It caught a lot of people with their drawers down. Coast Guard is wicked busy picking up what’s left of shrimpers and lobstermen caught out in it.”
“I have to admit that it was the most exciting sail of my life. I tried to stay above the storm, running full out with the wind until I thought I was clear, except crazy wind threatened to push her over if I didn’t drop the sail. Then the world exploded.”
“Yes. At the precise moment the lightning hit, I was dropping the spinnaker down the forward hatch. A calf strain and a cut were a relief given how scary a moment that was. Had I been in the cockpit, I’d have been crushed. I dropped down the hatch to see about the radio, but found it and all the electronics were fried. By the time I climbed back up, the storm had passed. I guess I just caught the edge of it. I could see that I was drifting out to sea in the dark, so I did what I could to control her.”
“Cut up and jerry-rigged the spinnaker and sailed into this hell-mouth of a cove? I’m mighty impressed.”
“Luck was on my side.”
“Rigging a sail like that was more than lucky, but that it worked and got you to safety, yes, I’d have to agree that luck helped too. This cove normally isn’t navigable if you draw more than two feet of water which is why I have it to myself. But for the water level still surging from the storm, you’d have crashed on rocks and debris two hundred yards back.”
“Well, lady luck really did smile upon me, right up to your door, Kate. I thank you.”
“It’s no more than anyone would do. You must have people worried about you. Family?”
“No family left to speak of, but I do have a close friend and colleague who will get anxious if he can’t reach me.”
“You rest a while and I’ll see if I can come with any ideas for getting in contact, or would you prefer something to eat first?” Her question went unanswered as he had nodded off in front of the fire.
She stepped outside. She hung his wet clothes up to dry, including those from the duffel bag which were damp but not soaked. His wallet fell out of his pants as she hung them upside down. She started to open it, but stopped herself from prying. She brought it inside and set it atop the wood stove to dry out faster. She returned outside again and sat. There was a lot of cleaning up to do. Food would rot over the next few days. She knew she wouldn’t be back on the power grid any time soon. With a shrug, she emptied the chamber of his service revolver of ammunition, just as a precaution, then went to retrieve her shotgun from the dock.
He was hard asleep when she returned. Even with a scruffy beard and skin chafed to deep reddish tan from wind and sun, she had to admit he was handsome. Handsome had not always been kind to her, however. Still, this man’s eyes sparkled when he spoke. There was a joy in him; she sensed a good spirit. She’d been so flat for so long, she felt a little jealous that he could be that way. She shook it off as a self-indulgent thought and resumed her chores.
Chapter 3 - Getting to Know You
Lee Crane awoke with a start, uncertain how long he’d been asleep and more than a bit stiff. He noted a blanket on top of him that hadn’t been there before. “Oh, right. The salt box house. Kate and Buster.” He didn’t see or hear them now, however. From the light coming through the window, he guessed he’d slept several hours.
“Kate? Are you inside?” No answer came. Lee pried himself from the chair, happy he was only achy and tired and that the leg injury was nothing major. It would be a relief if he could avoid the doctor. Lee looked for his things. Through the window, he saw his clothes hanging on the back porch. He headed outside to see if any were wearable. Although Kate’s robe wasn’t particularly feminine, he preferred his own clothes if he could wear them. He found a serviceably dry shirt and brought damp clamdiggers in to rest on the stove. He found his wallet on top, unfolded but face down.
He pulled out the soggy contents and spread them out to dry, curious that Kate had chosen not to do that. He inferred that she was a private person who respected other’s privacy. He could respect that, yet at the same time, he could not help but scan the room for hints about her.
Lee spotted a neat stack of magazines on a coffee table. The soft sofa behind the table promised relief to his achy body too, so it was an easy decision to sit down there and scan what she liked to read. The pile consisted of several Scientific Americans; a few boating magazines; some local newspapers, all several weeks old; Life; National Geographic; and the journal “Science Today”.
Lee’s stomach growled, but he ignored it. It would be rude to comb through her kitchen cupboards. He should wait a while longer. He couldn’t imagine she’d leave him alone for long. He tried to distract himself from his hunger by leafing through the magazines. The boating magazines didn’t hold his interest long. Instead, looking at them made him feel depressed at the loss of the family sailboat. It could not be easily replaced and he couldn’t imagine how it could be repaired. To boot, he’d have to bear the expense for removing the wreck from Kate’s dock, not that money was an issue. It was just another reminder of the loss, both of the classic sailboat and his mother.
He consoled himself that at least he was fine. Well, mostly. He forced himself to move on by looking at the Scientific American, a bit surprised to see many margin notes by the articles, and the puzzles all neatly worked out in ink. Just as he reached for the science journal, he heard the thwack of the screen door.
“I see Sleeping Beauty has awoken.”
Buster ran up to Lee’s side and nuzzled his hand.
“Feeling far from beautiful just now.”
“Bet you’re hungry as a horse.”
“How’d you know?”
“I’ve seen that boat. You haven’t eaten since the storm chased you north.”
“How about some fresh eggs?” She bore a basket as proof of the freshness.
“I’d love them.”
“Any way in particular?”
“Whatever is easiest. I’d be happy to do it if you like.”
“No, you rest that leg. After you eat, you might want to head upstairs and take a nice lukewarm shower while you can.”
“Electric hot water heater?”
“Afraid so. Guess I should have invested in a generator.”
Lee arose and hobbled into the kitchen. “Beautiful view.”
“Looking at water never gets old.”
“I usually feel that way, although less so yesterday.”
“Never say never, I forgot.”
“How many chickens do you have?”
“I’m guessing there’s a nice vegetable plot too.”
“Yes, although things took a beating yesterday. Tomatoes are from the greenhouse, what’s left of it.”
“Sounds like this place is a full time job.”
“Must be challenging to get help out here.”
“I pulled the radio from your boat. If we let it dry out a while, I think we can rig it to get a message through to the Coast Guard.”
“You shouldn’t have risked that for me. That mast could collapse through the deck at any time.”
“I’m charging an old car battery using some solar cells. There won’t be much power available, but you should have a minute or two, assuming the transistors weren’t damaged along with the wiring.”
“If you’ve got the tools, I’ll look at it. I’m pretty handy.”
“I’ve got it taken care of. You just rest.”
“Are you an engineer of some sort?”
“No, just a hermit.”
“Who reads scientific magazines and journals?”
“Don’t you know us Down Easterners read anything and everything we can get our hands on? It’s those long winters.”
Message received, loud and clear. Her past, and perhaps much of her present, was off limits as a topic. As a gracious guest, Lee knew when not to push.
They ate quietly, a heap of delicious fresh eggs over easy, runny and peppery, along with a lightly dressed salad. Lee cleaned his plate. Kate seemed distracted and pushed her food around more than she ate. “I can make you some more, if you like,” she offered as she cleared her own unfinished plate.
“No, thank you. It was just perfect.”
“Why don’t you go take that shower now?”
“I can at least clean the dishes.”
“I’ll just leave them to soak. Come on.” She extended a hand, and directed him upstairs while staying behind him on the way up. “Green towels are fresh. I’ve made up the spare room for you.”
“Sorry to be so much trouble.”
“None whatsoever. I’ll bring up your dry clothes before you’re done, but promise to holler if you need help in or out of the tub.”
Lee chuckled at the thought of asking her for help. His reputation for refusing it was a matter of record aboard the Seaview, and he’d grown so stubborn about it that it had become a bit of a joke amongst the crew. He couldn’t imagine asking her for that kind of help, except well, she did have a certain charm the crew lacked -- the feminine kind.
Lee removed the bandage on his leg, forgetting about the one on his arm, and took a fast shower to soap and rinse. He wanted to leave Kate a fair share of whatever lukewarm water remained. After he toweled off, he rewrapped the leg. He couldn’t help but observe that it was nicer when she had leaned over him to do it. Getting a little punchy now, Crane, he thought to himself.
She certainly was not his usual type, not like the bubbly secretaries at the Institute or the pampered rich girls of Santa Barbara. Lee had his fair share of casual relationships with the lot of them and more. It was what his life aboard the Seaview allowed, limited good times on shore, mostly spent with eye candy.
Kate was different, more like the women Nelson associated with, albeit younger. She was on the plainer side of pretty, a bit too serious, and exceedingly self-sufficient. He doubted she’d appreciate a man holding a door open for her. In fact, he wondered how effective the Crane charm would be if he pushed it, but something about the circumstances and the woman made him want to push it.
“Are you okay?” Kate hollered up the stairs.
“Seriously, has your arm stopped bleeding?”
Lee peeled off the wet gauze. “Not entirely.”
“Are you decent?”
Lee snickered. “Decent enough.”
“I’m coming in.”
“Hi.” Lee sat on the toilet seat lid.
Kate held a basket. “Damn. We can either try to wrap it tighter or I’ve got a needle and some fishing line. I should warn you that I’m not a great seamstress.”
Kate ran off for supplies and returned quickly. “You may regret this. I flunked out of home economics in middle school.”
“I can’t see you flunking out of anything.”
“Here, bite on this.”
“You’ve watched a lot of old Westerns?”
“Oh, sorry. Maybe you’ve had amateurs sew you up without anesthesia lots of times before?”
“I’ll take the toothbrush,” Lee said. He remained stoic as Kate sewed five stitches in his upper arm.
“That had to have hurt,” Kate said as she tied off the last stitch.
“I didn’t want to scare you into stopping,” Lee smiled after he removed the well bitten toothbrush handle from his mouth.
“This way to the guest room,” Kate pointed.
Lee made his way to the spare bedroom. He settled on a sturdy chair to put on the neatly laid out pajamas waiting for him on the bed. He observed how fastidiously the antique cast iron bed had been made, although he couldn’t reconcile the ornateness of it with the house’s owner. He also noted how the books which lined every wall in the room were evenly aligned, even those piled horizontally on top of the vertical ones.
He scanned the titles as best he could from the chair, but many were in small print. The majority of books appeared to be textbooks and journals, many concerning marine science and navigation, more than a few of which he’d read. He pulled one he knew. A name was blacked out on the inside cover. Notes were scribbled throughout. He re-shelved it and looked at another book, repeating his earlier observation. The margin notes were tiny and mostly indecipherable to him, written in English mixed with some kind of shorthand he didn’t recognize. A third book looked just the same.
Lee scanned the shelves for something interesting to read. He stopped when he saw a narrow book he recognized: Harriman Nelson, “The Future of Submarines.” He could not suppress a laugh. “Never can get too far away from you, Admiral.” He opened it. A dedication on the front page was blackened out to redact the recipient’s name: “To XXXXXXXXXXX, I know your future will be bright. My door’s always open for you. Harriman Nelson.”
Lee’s curiosity was piqued. Although he knew the volume well, he fingered through the pages attempting to decipher the reader’s notes. He easily made out those in the preface: “Visionary or crackpot? Time will tell.” Throughout the book were notes responding to Nelson’s assertions, some with a large “no” or “x” through them, some with a “?”, others with “works” or checkmarks. Suggestions or critiques appeared in the margins, many of which had proven true over time. In the back third of the book, a business card fell out, one of Nelson’s Institute cards, an old version. On the back was a note: “If ever you change your mind, I will welcome you with open arms.”
That one struck Lee a little oddly. Was it all business? How old was the note? Lee heard Kate on the stairs and, without knowing why he did it, he hastily re-shelved the book. As he did so, a letter fell out from inside the back cover. Kate knocked on his door. Lee quickly shoved the letter under the bed covers.
“You managing all right?”
“Yes, I’m dressed and feeling nearly human again.”
“You could have taken a longer shower.”
“Navy man, remember? Anything over three minutes is a punishable offense. Besides, I thought you deserved some lukewarm water too.”
“Thanks. I think I will take a quick shower before it gets dark. I’ll be heading back down afterward to read by the fire. I can bring you up a lantern if you’d like to stay up here for the rest of the night.”
“No, I’ll come down and be sociable, that is if you don’t mind?”
“That’s fine. It’ll be easier to try the radio down there anyway.”
“I don’t know how I can ever repay your hospitality.”
“Maybe not, but I have a desire to anyway.”
“Will you need help getting downstairs?”
“No, I’ll manage. I’ll see you there in a few minutes.”
After she left, Lee removed the letter from the bed covers. It was sealed and stamped, addressed to Admiral Harriman Nelson at NIMR, with no return address, and marked urgent. Lee was sorely tempted to open it, but resisted. Instead, he made his way downstairs while she showered, taking the letter with him tucked inside the robe. He settled onto the sofa, elevating his aching leg to ease the pain. He looked at the magazines again. The mailing labels had been removed from all of them. Odd, but none of his business, he reminded himself. He placed the letter to Nelson at the bottom of the stack of magazines, then flipped through National Geographic until Kate returned, dressed in flannel pajamas.
“Can you tolerate instant hot chocolate?” she asked as she went past him toward the kitchen.
“I’d love it. Not that I wouldn’t milk a cow for the real thing, if you had one.”
“We’ll use up the milk at breakfast before it starts to turn. Guess I won’t be able to put off cleaning out the fridge and freezer another month now.”
“Maybe if you bought a cow?”
Lee enjoyed hearing her laugh. He had the sense she didn’t do it much.
In a few minutes, she emerged with a tray. She placed it on the coffee table. Kate handed Lee a mug, then settled in the bentwood chair by the stove. They quietly sipped the hot cocoa as the last light disappeared. The skies had taken on a pearlescent bluish/purplish cast.
“Not so bad here at the end of the earth, is it?”
“I’ve been to the end of the earth. Everything’s blindingly white and blue. This is closer to paradise.”
“You’ve been to the Arctic Circle?”
“With the Navy?”
“Uh huh,” Lee hedged, not wanting to bring up Seaview yet, not after finding Nelson’s book in her house.
“The very top,” Lee teased, expecting his response to get her to fish for information a little. She didn’t bite.
“I’ll get that radio for you now.” She headed outside to the porch and returned with the radio pulled from Lee’s boat along with a car battery and several loose wires. She kneeled and set it on the coffee table in front of him. “Won’t know for sure about the transistors until we hook it up. I lay the odds of them being fried at 50-50.”
“Allow me,” Lee said. He quickly wired the radio to the battery. “Here goes.” No sound came at first. Lee switched channels. A burst of static rewarded him.
Kate smiled at Lee, then got up and walked away.
“You can stay.”
She shook her head, exited through the front door and closed it behind her.
“This is Whiskey Yankee Butler 309 calling the Coast Guard,” Lee repeated twice.
“We read you Whiskey Yankee Butler 309. Is this an emergency?”
“Negative, sir. My boat is wrecked but I’m safe. I was hoping to get word to folks who may be worried about me. I have no access to a phone and this radio will lose power soon.”
“Go ahead then.”
Lee softened his voice, in case she was listening. “Would you please call 805-444-1212, at the Nelson Institute, and let them know that Lee Crane is fine.”
“Glad to hear that, Commander. We’ve been looking for you. Your folks said they’d come get you if we found you. May we have your location?”
“Just let them know that I’m safe and secure, but slightly dinged up, so they should set sail without me. I’ll make contact later in the week.”
“Yes sir. Could you at least give us a location?”
“Mr. Morton is pestering you?”
“Coast of Maine, probably just a few miles shy of the border.”
“One moment, but don’t panic if you lose me. The battery is going.” Lee turned the radio off.
Kate remained outside. Through the window, Lee could see a candle burning by a chair illuminating her face.
Lee got up and went to the door. Buster rose and followed him. Once outside, Lee put his hand on Kate’s shoulder. Buster rose up tall on his hind legs and nudged it off. Lee laughed. “That’s done. Thanks.”
“Do you need to give them directions?”
“No, I just told them I was fine and I’d be in touch later in the week. I’m still on leave.”
“You could do better than here.”
“If you want, I’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
“Not likely unless you’re hiding a helicopter in your back pocket. Roads are still impassable according to the news.”
“Yes.” She pulled it from her robe pocket.
“Does that thing get FM?”
“A little music might be nice.”
“Sure.” She handed it to Lee. “Find what you like.”
“What do you like?”
“Why do you try to make yourself irrelevant?”
Lee reached out for her chin. “Hardly.”
She pushed his hand away. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“You could have shot me earlier or not let me in your house. I know you are kind and smart.” Lee found a classical music station that barely held. “How long has it been since you’ve had any fun? Or allowed yourself to smile?” he asked as he took her hand in his. “Or danced?”
“A lifetime ago.”
“I feel like celebrating. Do you think you could rally enough to join me?” He didn’t wait for an answer. Lee Crane, bon vivant, at your service. He initiated an easy waltz. She didn’t seem to enjoy it much, however. She wouldn’t allow herself, he observed, even though she obviously knew the steps.
“You shouldn’t do this on that calf,” she admonished as the piece ended a minute later. “I shouldn’t have let you.” She pulled away and headed inside.
Lee gave her a minute and himself one too. I’m in full knight in shining armor mode, he observed, maybe a bit too much. Slow down. In another minute, he went inside. She was stacking wood by the stove.
“I need to seriously stoke this fire. Would you mind gathering your things off the top so they don’t overheat?”
“Leg’s a little stiff,” he said as he held on to the side of the couch and prepared to sit. “Would you mind doing it for me?”
Without looking directly at what she was picking up, she gathered his wallet and the items he’d removed. She held them out to his free hand, averting her gaze from the items.
“There are no secrets there.”
“I know as much as I need to know about you.”
Lee quietly returned the contents to his wallet. “Tell me about all your books upstairs. It’s quite a collection.”
“I picked them up at local sales.”
“All those textbooks and journals?”
“Someone donated boxes of them to the library. I took the entire lot off their hands.”
Shut down again. Still, Lee took the risk. “When I was browsing through one, a letter — sealed and stamped, but never mailed — fell out of one. I brought it down. It’s underneath the magazines.” He reached for it and put it on top.
She didn’t ask about it or even look too closely at it. “Well, I guess the right thing to do would be to drop it at the post office.”
“The person might have changed their mind about mailing it.”
“No way to know without opening it. Don’t think it’s our business to do that.”
“I suppose not, although I admit it’s tempting.”
“I think I’ll turn in now. You’re welcome to stay up later. Tomorrow I’ll ride my bike into town and assess the roads so we can see about getting you home.”
Lee knew he’d never make it home before Seaview set sail. “No need to hurry.”
“Good for you, but I’ve got a zillion chores and the storm has only added to them.”
“How about if I stick around a couple of days to help you? It’s the least I can do.”
“Afraid my company won’t be very good after a day or so.”
“I’m up for risking it.”
“Why do I get the feeling you have a job where you always get your way?”
Lee grinned. “Not to impose too much, but I wouldn’t mind a hand going up. The leg,” he pointed.
“Imagine that, twinkle toes. Come on,” she extended her hand.
At the top of the stairs, as she helped him through the door to the bedroom, he kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks for everything.”
She pulled back quickly. “Goodnight, Lee.”
Chapter 4 - Getting to Know All About You
When Lee awoke, the house was quiet. He hobbled stiffly down the stairs. He noticed that the letter on the coffee table to Nelson was gone. He continued to the kitchen in search of Kate and Buster, but found a note instead: “Rode bike to town. Coffee on stove. Cereal in pantry. Use as much milk as you like or anything else.”
“So Kate really does want to get rid of me.” Lee supposed he could let the Institute send a helicopter, but it seemed silly in the aftermath of the storm when many others probably were still in dire need of help and Lee was not. Besides, Jamie would not let him sail with the calf injury, not when Seaview would be back in port in two weeks.
Moreover, Lee was rather relishing the challenge. He could wear Kate down with the Crane charm. She wasn’t immune. He’d seen the signs amidst the resistance. Then there was the mystery of whether she had some kind of relationship with the Admiral that kept him from wanting to leave just yet.
After breakfast, Lee took a magazine and journal from the coffee table upstairs to compare the handwritten notes with those in some of the books. He deduced it could be the same person’s writing, based on the “yes,” “no,” and “?” comments, although the writing in the more current materials was much looser, larger and devoid of the cryptic shorthand. But of course Lee hadn’t seen Kate write any of it. Curiosity unsatisfied, Lee returned the materials to the coffee table.
There was a desk off the front hall by the dining room. Lee found nothing of interest on top of it, not a piece of mail, a bill, not a last name on any papers, just some generic stationery. How odd, the thought. Kate -- in her own home -- appeared to be a woman with no last name. Lee knew there had to be more, but whatever identification she had, she probably carried with her. He opened the roll front portion of the desk and still saw nothing to give Kate a last name or to indicate she owned the home she inhabited. Maybe in her bedroom, he wondered, but that would be crossing the line of privacy invasion too far. Maybe, he had to admit to himself, he already had crossed the line by looking in the desk. Enough, Lee told himself and headed outside.
Lee exited the front door to look around the property. To the left was a barn with hens roaming about it. Lee was surprised to see solar panels atop the south side of the barn roof. Inside the barn he found numerous hand tools and stacks of electronic and motor pieces. On a small table in a corner sat a large journal replete with drawings, schematics, formulae, as if a thousand ideas had tried to jump from her head to the pages within. “Well, that answers it. They’re peas in a pod, and he must have known it then. Mad scientists one and all, Harriman!” Okay. Nelson wasn’t mad, but maybe she was. Or maybe she was the daughter of a mad scientist Nelson knew? Or maybe those books were some other mad scientist’s? And maybe Lee Crane needed to go back to the Seaview sooner rather than later because his imagination had gotten carried away and he needed work to stop his rambling theorizing.
Lee made a resolution. If she could get him to town by car, he’d leave soon. Otherwise, he’d play it by ear. How long could it take to clear eight miles of road, anyway? Town must have an inn or something; there was one around every corner in coastal Maine. Absentmindedly, Lee picked up a bucket of chicken feed and tossed it towards the hens who had encircled him and pecked at his toes during his snooping.
That’s a good houseguest, Lee. Help out. Stop digging. He walked the property, gingerly dragging the bum calf along, but flexing it some to promote healing (at least that’s what he thought he was doing -- Doc might disagree). He picked up strewn branches and added them to a compost pile on the side of the garden. In the garden, he picked the last of the season’s green beans, cucumbers and lettuce. Back at the house, on the south side, he harvested a ripe tomato from the greenhouse that soon would lose functionality, owing to seven shattered glass panes.
Lee returned to the kitchen. He blanched the green beans, then composed a salad with the lettuce, adding a can of tuna. He filled a pot with water, placed several fresh eggs in the pot and brought it to a boil before turning off the heat. He checked his watch. Twelve minutes later, he placed the egg pot into the sink, carefully poured out most of the hot water without tipping out the eggs, and ran cold water over them for several minutes. He peeled the cooled eggs and composed them on the salad, impressed with his handiwork. Only one piece was missing, but he didn’t know if he’d find them in her pantry. He smiled broadly when he discovered several tins of anchovies. “Et voila. Salade niçoise,” he announced to no one.
Tired now, and conscious that the leg was complaining, Lee took his coffee mug and the pot to the chair by the stove. He drank several cups while staring contentedly at the sea. An hour or so after he sat dozing in and out, he heard the crunch of Buster’s paws on leaves as the dog approached the screen door.
“Good afternoon,” he smiled as Kate let Buster inside. Buster immediately ran to Lee and nuzzled him. Lee patted him in return.
“Afternoon to you. Not so good, though. The roads are a mess. Trees and power lines are still down. We had to go through a mess several times to get into town. Things weren’t much better there. Most everything’s closed, even the post office.”
“Speak to anyone?”
“I’d lose my hermit status if I did.” After a brief pause, she answered Lee. “The man who runs the post office and general store said that hopefully the power company would make it up to town in a few days, based on shortwave chatter. He offered to send a message for you if you like.”
“I’m fine, really. Why don’t you go get out of those things into something clean?”
“I’ve still got chores to do.”
“I already fed the chickens, picked up sticks, harvested the garden and made lunch. That should buy you long enough to get the brambles out of your hair.”
She ran her hand through her hair, hitting a bramble tangle. “I guess you have a point. Thanks.”
“Come Buster,” Lee said, adding a whistle. The dog responded, leaving his mistress alone. Kate flashed a look back at Lee, one that questioned how he’d acquired her dog’s loyalty in a day. Lee shrugged.
Kate emerged a few minutes later. Lukewarm showers didn’t give much reason to linger. Lee had lunch set out at the table.
“Nicoise salad, very nice. There are olives hiding at the back of the fridge.”
“I didn’t want to open it to look, but if you’d like.”
“I would. I’ll get them.”
She quickly pulled a tub from the back recesses of the old refrigerator. “You want some?”
“And I suppose you wouldn’t refuse a glass of wine either.”
“I am on vacation, Mademoiselle. I can refuse nothing pleasurable.”
“I’ll be right back.” Kate disappeared into the basement. She returned with a dusty bottle of French rosé.
“A perfect choice, Mademoiselle. Permit me,” Lee proceeded to open the bottle with a corkscrew he’d found while she was downstairs. He filled two wine stems that Kate produced.
“Not your first time doing that.”
“Non. And hopefully not my last either! Salud.”
“Are you always this relentlessly upbeat?”
“Often, but especially so after riding out a hurricane.”
They ate and sipped. Lee could see how fast the wine went to Kate’s head. He could not help but like the change in her. By the second glass, she was giggly. She’d been transformed. Oh, the advantage he could take now, the questions which he might get answered.
This time it was she who turned on the transistor. “Dance with me,” she said. Lee nodded. At first they moved around a bit, then it became a stationary dance. Four minutes in, she looked at him, eyes welling. “Why are you here?”
Lee didn’t answer with words. Instead he kissed her on the mouth, full on. She didn’t resist. If anything, she was the first to seek more with her tongue. From there to the couch took only minutes. Lee was enjoying himself, but wondered whether he’d gone too far. “Are you sure?” he asked as she rubbed up against his pants.
“Enough for now. Just promise to forgive me if I curse you later. When.”
“I’ll try,” he smiled and moaned at the same time.
Minutes later, the two lay entwined on the floor in front of the wood stove, exhausted. Buster had crawled and nudged his way in between their legs.
Lee drifted off to sleep for a few moments, as did Kate. She awoke first. “Good grief. What the hell have I done?”
Lee had heard. “Accepted the grateful thanks of a rescued sailor?” He stroked her cheek, as he waited to see if she relaxed or exploded into self-contempt. He dreaded the latter, so he moved in close to kiss her, holding her tight just in case. He felt her body tense, heard her breath shorten.
“Swear to me you’ll leave tomorrow.”
“If it makes you happy, I’ll swear it.”
“Are you happy?”
“Positively giddy, considering that I nearly died alone at sea the other day. Instead, I’m safe and sound in an idyllic cove in Maine with a lovely, intelligent woman.”
“That’s not exactly happiness. It’s more like a survivor’s adrenaline rush.”
“On top of all of that, I have a great life, a job . . .”
“Please, stop. I don’t want to know any details.”
“You’ll be gone tomorrow. The less information I have to hold on to, the better.”
“I don’t understand that.”
“You don’t have to. You only have to accept it.”
“On one condition.”
“Tell me, if you had only one day left on this earth, how would you spend it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Outside. Sailing. Watching the water. A simple meal at dusk watching the sky darken.”
“Then let’s spend the afternoon doing just that.”
“I have work to do.”
“Nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow.” Lee put his hand under her chin and leaned down to kiss her.
“There would probably need to be more wine.”
“Is there more in the basement?”
“You can’t sail, not with that leg.”
“You do the work; I’ll tag along. Just promise to yell before you come about so I have time to duck. Come on. It’s just one day.” He handed her the remnants of the bottle of wine.
Several minutes later, Kate helped Lee to the dock and onto her daysailer. They didn’t go far, just a little outside the cove and back and forth some, to assure that returning before dark would be easy. Kate did most of the work, but Lee couldn’t just sit there. When he had the opportunity, he quietly fidgeted with the sail trim to optimize it.
“You’re awfully good at this.”
“I have a lot of experience. I . . . ”
She interrupted immediately. “No details, please.”
“Right. That’s one beautiful sky, isn’t it?”
They returned silently to the dock. She gave him a shoulder for support as he slowly took the stairs.
“How does it feel?”
“It’s nothing major.”
“Wait here. I’ll go get a blanket.”
“And some wine?”
Soon after, they sipped pinot noir in silence as they watched the water and sky. Eventually, Lee placed his arm around her shoulders. “This is nice, isn’t it?”
“A better way for a last day than capsizing at sea.”
“Hopefully it’s not your last day.”
“Nor yours either.” Lee kissed her on the back of the neck. Lee continued, moving towards her ear. She stared straight ahead.
“Why are you here, like some protagonist out of a cheap romance novel?”
“Sometimes life imitates art. Well, maybe not art,” he laughed and resumed kissing her. “Maybe just as a reminder to you that there’s more life out there.”
“Not for me.”
“Then for today at least.” Lee pulled her face into his. He kissed her deeply. She responded, but he also felt her hesitation. He continued to initiate.
“You’ll go tomorrow. You promise?”
That was that. Later, they watched dusk settle, with Lee’s arm around Kate’s back. The chill in the air soon dictated that they head inside.
“How about I make some dinner?” Lee offered.
“No, you rest.”
“Really, I insist. It’ll be simple.”
Lee rummaged through the cabinets. “How about spaghetti with anchovies?”
“Sounds good. I’ll make a salad.”
“As long as you stay right here, fine.”
“Because I asked, because it feels good.” He nuzzled her neck. “Because it’s okay to feel good.”
“Until it all falls apart.”
“If it falls apart.”
“You’ll be gone tomorrow, so it will.”
“You could change your mind about that. I’d stay longer.”
“No, just today. All will be forgotten tomorrow.”
“I hope not. That would rather hurt my ego.”
“Not all, just, oh shut up.” She pressed her lips on his. She got up and returned with the leftover wine. “You do this often, Lee?”
“No, but maybe I should, I mean, this is damn nice.” He reached over and caressed her briefly before he returned to cooking.
After dinner, they each enjoyed a last glass of wine. A certain awkwardness began to set in. They moved into the living room, Lee on the couch, leg up on the coffee table, Kate on the chair by the stove.
“Come here,” Lee said. “Please, since you’re kicking me out tomorrow.”
Kate was reluctant at first, but yielded. Damn he was handsome and that smile was simply unfair when combined with those eyes and the curls that draped his forehead. The beard, well, she couldn’t help but wonder how he’d look without it. There was also something a little bit familiar about him too, but she couldn’t think what. Lee moved to put an arm around her, just as she lunged for the transistor radio on the table. To his disappointment, she turned on a.m. radio. “Weather, for tomorrow.” Not easily defeated, Lee once again attempted to bring his arm around her shoulders, succeeding this time. They sat in companionable silence with Buster on the floor nudging his head between their legs.
As the bottom of the hour approached, the weather forecast was given: a beautiful day tomorrow, helpful for repair crews and those cleaning up from the devastating storm.
“Sounds like too pretty a day to get rid of a houseguest,” Lee joked, “especially one who can help out with the chores.”
“If you really want,” Lee smoothed over, squeezing her a little. He felt her resistance fading.
“And now for our headlines. Down East continues to cleanup from the storm.
Dozens of people remain unaccounted for with twenty-three deaths confirmed in Maine. Tens of thousands of homes are without electricity or telephone. Utility crews are making slow progress and urge patience. Many secondary roads still remain blocked by downed trees and debris, preventing crews from accessing lines. It may be weeks before all customers return to the grid, especially those in the less populous regions Down East. Sounds like a good time to get out those chainsaws and axes and turn some of those downed trees into firewood. Just watch out for live wires, folks!
On the national front, South Carolina and North Carolina continue to dig out from the devastation caused by the hurricane earlier in the week before it moved out to sea and then re-formed over northern Maine and the Canadian border. The death toll in the Carolinas currently stands at 46, with hundreds more injured and many more left homeless. In related news, authorities in North Carolina report that most of the prisoners from the heavily damaged Beaufort Federal Penitentiary have been returned to custody. Authorities stress that Beaufort is a minimum security facility that harbors mainly white collar criminals, so that the populace should not feel unduly threatened by the convicts that remain at large. Among them are Arnold Swenson, imprisoned for forgery and considered one of the best in the world. Also at large is Dirk Christie, an industrialist who was convicted of defrauding the government by producing inferior and flawed products pursuant to military contracts, resulting in the deaths of 24 sailors on the USS Solaris.”
Kate’s arm brushed sideways, knocking her wine glass off the side table onto the floor.
“Yes, just tired.”
“Why don’t we head upstairs then?”
Kate started to shake her head “no” then abruptly changed course. “Yes. Buster, stay here.”
Lee wondered if that meant she was inviting Lee to usurp the dog for the night as her companion. He’d be fine with that, but it struck him as off. In the last few seconds, he had sensed her closing down.
Kate left him at the spare room with a lantern in hand. “Thanks for today.”
“It doesn’t need to end yet.”
“You leave in the morning.”
“If the roads are passable.”
“We’ll manage. Good night.” Kate backed away too quickly for even a peck on the cheek and disappeared into her bedroom. Lee heard the click of the lock engaging.
“Good night, Kate,” he said loudly. Lee washed up and prepared for bed. He wavered between feeling disappointed and insulted. He was baffled by her behavior, but had no choice but to accept her decision. He took a business card out of his wallet and wrote his home number and a note on the back. “I’m here for you, no matter what,” he jotted on the back. He knew she’d reject the offer of the card in person so he left it on top of the dresser where she would find it after he was gone.
Without much thought, Lee pulled Nelson’s book off the shelves and took it with him to the bed. He briefly enjoyed reading through the text and the notes written in the margin until Nelson’s card again fell out. He read over the words, so similar to what he’d just written. No, Nelson couldn’t possibly have known her in the same way. Could he? Lee disliked where his mind was going. Yes, he’d leave tomorrow if it was plausible. He’d promised. Besides, maybe Nelson could give him answers. If he decided to ask them. He wasn’t certain yet if he would or should.
Chapter 5 - Separating
When Lee awoke in the morning and came downstairs, cold cereal was set out with warm coffee. Kate was missing at first, then came in looking as if she’d been hard at work since dawn. “Chores,” she grunted. “We leave in ten minutes.”
“Are the roads suddenly better?”
“We can make it partway in the car and you can take the bike the rest of the way.”
“What about my calf?”
“It won’t get worse for wear on the bike. I’ll walk along with you for the last part if you need help.”
“Why can’t we just wait another day or two?”
“Mr. Gurney will get in contact with someone to help get you home or he’ll put you up until arrangements can be made.”
“That I’d just as soon stay here doesn’t matter?”
“Oh come on, you know what men will say to get their way.”
“Women too, except I meant it. It has to be this way. Please don’t make this more difficult.”
“I don’t see why it should be, but I’m a man of my word.” Lee went upstairs to gather his things. He noticed, for the first time, that his service revolver had been unloaded. He decided not to say anything about it to Kate, figuring that if it made her more comfortable about letting him stay there, it was a fair price.
They got in the car without speaking although Buster expressed irritation at the front seat being occupied by Lee instead of him and he kept trying to hurdle over the seat between them to resume his regular spot. Kate ordered him back and to stay three times before Buster finally resigned himself and stretched out along the back seat. Later, Lee tried to make small talk a time or two. Kate didn’t engage.
They were able to take the car nearly half way. Lee suspected that Kate had done some clearing the day before or that morning to make a partial drive possible. Once they got to a large tree blocking the road, Kate hauled the bike out of the back of the wagon and placed it on the other side of the tree. Lee sat down on the trunk and pivoted over to the other side of the road without waiting for Kate to help. Kate insisted on helping him steady himself on the bike. Afterward, Lee used the bike for much of the remaining four miles, taking a very slow pace that allowed him to skirt the debris and for Kate and Buster to stay close by. The motion only strained his calf a little. Once in town, Kate escorted Lee inside the combination gas station/post office/food mart called “Gurney’s” while Buster remained outside.
“Mr. Gurney, this is that fellow I mentioned to you the other day. Will you help him get home?”
“Yes, Miss Kate. Good to meet you fella. Heard you had quite the adventure getting here.”
“Quite,” Lee said.
“Well, I’ve got a spare room that’s waiting for you. You might even manage a hot shower if the generator doesn’t kick off again. Goes for a couple of hours then sputters out. I’ve been too busy here to take a look see.”
“I’d be happy to take a look at the generator for you,” Lee and Kate offered nearly simultaneously.
“Must be my lucky day!” Mr. Gurney said. “Come on over to the house and I’ll show it to you.”
“I’ll just head on back now, if you don’t mind, seeing as Lee can help.”
“I mind,” Lee said.
“They always say two heads are better than one, so why don’t you stay and help, Miss Kate? I’ll fix you a hot bowl of chowder in return.”
“You don’t play fair, Mr. Gurney. He makes the meanest pot of clam chowder in these parts.”
“And further,” Mr. Gurney nodded. Inside his unlocked front door, Mr. Gurney tested the light switch. “Out again.” He handed Kate and Lee a flashlight each. “I’ll show Lee his room before you get started so I can head back to the store. The last of the batteries and candles will be gone before noon, I expect.”
Mr. Gurney took Lee and his bag up stairs. “Help yourself to anything in the kitchen or bath, young man.”
“I appreciate your hospitality, Mr. Gurney. Thanks.”
“You got a message you want me send out for you on shortwave? Or you want to do that later yourself?”
“Truth is I’m in no hurry. I kind of like it here.”
“Miss Kate made it seem like you were anxious to get out of town.”
“I think it’s more like Kate is anxious to get rid of me.”
“I got the impression the other day that Miss Kate was enjoying your company. Even thought I saw a little twinkle in her eye yesterday and today too. But they do say when you live alone too long, you kind of get used to it.”
“You live alone?”
“No. My wife, Elsa, is in Vermont with our daughter Bonnie. She runs a B&B and Elsa helps her out during peak leaf season. How about you, you married?”
“Only to the job.”
“Good for you. And me too if you can fix up that generator. We better get back to Miss Kate and the generator before she wonders what we’ve gotten up to. Just know that if you’d like to stick around a few more days, I’d have no objection. Lots of folks could use a helping hand right now.”
They returned downstairs. “Tools, rags and materials are in the basement. The old beast is just outside the basement door. If you can’t find something you need, feel free to come cabbage anything from the store. Miss Kate, you’re welcome to a hot shower here to clean up if you need or want to. You can even borrow some of Bonnie’s old clothes from the upstairs bedroom if you need a fresh set. I bet you wish you’d gotten around to getting that generator last winter, after all!”
“Thanks, Mr. Gurney. I might just take you up on that offer and exhaust your supply of Old Spice.”
“Gals just love it,” Mr. Gurney winked at Lee. Kate shook her head “no” while suppressing a chuckle.
They carefully descended into the damp and dark basement on rickety old steps illuminated only by their flashlights.
“Looks just like every other basement in New England. No one ever throws anything out in case they might someday need it.”
“At least Mr. Gurney’s basement is well organized and clean. Mine is, well, a mess, leftover from the prior owner added to by my mess.”
“I’d have never have guessed you for a messy basement kind of woman. Everything in your house is so meticulous.”
“Except what I’m hiding in the basement.”
“A mess!” she laughed.
“Oh good, you do still like me.”
Kate immediately clammed up. Lee found the door to the outside, opening it to let in some light. “This thing must be thirty years old!”
“Easily. Mr. Gurney said the missus made him buy it just before Bonnie was born or she was going to move back in with her parents in Vermont.”
“He’s a character, isn’t he?”
“Yes, I . . . never mind.”
“Were you on the verge of admitting an attachment to Mr. Gurney? A liking even? Something to expel you from the ornery hermit society?”
“I am not ornery.”
“Well, maybe not, at least not until last night. I wouldn’t mind it if you enlightened me as to why, given we had a pretty delightful time all day.”
“How about if we start her and see what the problem is?”
“Exactly what I thought I’d already done,” Lee smiled.
“Wicked funny,” Kate snarled as she manually restarted the generator. It engaged for a minute, sputtered, kicked, then died.
“What do you think, carburetor or circuit load?”
“Either, both, and a heap of dirt.”
“Yes, now I see why Mr. Gurney offered his shower so readily. How about if I check the circuit load first?” Kate nodded in assent. “Yep, she’s short-circuiting. How about if you track that down while I give the carburetor a good cleaning just in case?”
“It could only help.”
Two hours later, Lee and Kate jointly had broken down the generator, cleaned and reassembled it. “You want to test drive her or should I?” Lee started it after Kate pointed toward him. “Et voila! What great teamwork. And clearly not your first time.”
Kate rolled her eyes at Lee. His infectious good nature could almost make her forget. She closed her eyes for a few seconds in self defense only to be startled by a rag wiping across her cheek.
“You, my dear, are completely filthy!” Lee said as he continued wiping her face. Kate was frozen. “And adorable,” Lee added as he planted a kiss on her. “Come on upstairs and use Bonnie’s shower. I didn’t see a trace of Old Spice in there.” Lee kissed her again, this time coming inside her mouth. Kate yielded. He took her by the hand. “Come on. I’ll scrub your back,” he said as he gently tugged. Kate -- oddly misty-eyed -- followed, as if she wanted him, but was also afraid of something.
Lee started the shower for her. Then he kissed her. She kissed back. She took off her shirt. He kissed her again. He took off his shirt. She kissed him on the lips, then on the chest. They removed each other’s clothes piece by piece after that, breaking only to kiss. When the clothes were gone, Lee stepped into the back of the shower and held his hand out to Kate, who entered in front of him.
Washing. Foreplay. They became one in the same. Kate’s arms wrapped around Lee’s neck as he held her up while they finished what they’d started. Lee’s gentle assistance kept her from slipping as her feet returned to the bottom of the tub. Necks wrapped around each other as hot water slid down their faces. Kate crying. Lee’s hand reaching out to wipe away her tears, concerned and confused.
“I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Tears slid down her cheeks. “No, Lee. I’m sorry. This isn’t about you. Please don’t take it that way. I’ve got to go. Thank you. I mean it.”
“I can help if you let me.”
“You have helped. More than you can know.”
Kate grabbed a towel and fled to the bedroom. Lee stayed back, torn at what to do, whether to do anything. He met up with her in the hallway as she opened the bedroom door to leave. “Please stay.”
She shook her head. “I wish I could.”
Lee threw on clothes hurriedly, then he slowed down a bit when he saw her go into Mr. Gurney’s store. Chowder at Mr. Gurney’s would buy him a few minutes. Mr. Gurney wouldn’t let her disappear quickly. Lee entered two minutes behind Kate confident in that knowledge. When he didn’t see her at one of the two small cafe tables, he worriedly looked through the rest of the store but found no sign of her. Mr. Gurney emerged from a door behind the counter.
“Where’s Kate?” Lee asked with urgency, noting that Mr. Gurney’s eyes were moist.
Mr. Gurney came out from behind the counter and put his arm around Lee’s shoulder. “It’s like this, son. She has to go and you need to let her. She has a hard road ahead.”
“God, is she sick? Is that what she wouldn’t tell me?”
“I’m not at liberty to tell you. I can only tell you that you brought a little sunshine into her life these last few days, any fool could see that. She said to tell you goodbye. She said she hopes you don’t think badly of her.”
“Badly of her? I’m just confused. Hopelessly confused.”
“Women can do that to a man. Sit a spell. I’ll bring you some chowder. It’ll help.”
“Yes, thanks. Maybe afterward, I can use your shortwave?”
Mr. Gurney nodded. He emerged with two large bowls of chowder and served Lee one that was filled to the brim. “Mind if I join you for lunch?”
“I’d be honored.”
“Any luck with the generator?”
Lee looked puzzled. “Kate didn’t tell you? Yes, it should be fine now.”
“Many thanks. We don’t expect power for a few more days and the temperature is going to dip. I might have to ask you take the couch so some neighbors can bunk in too.”
“Absolutely, although I think I might leave soon.”
“Your reason for staying being gone and all?”
Lee nodded, then took a giant spoonful of chowder. “Chip would kill for this chowder.”
“A colleague of mine. He likes to eat.”
“Don’t we all? Well, now that I say that, you are a bit on the skinny side.”
“So Miss Kate didn’t tell me how you ended up on her doorstep. What were you doing out sailing during a hurricane?”
Lee chuckled. “Guess I can try my answers out on you before the Admiral. I have a feeling his reaction and yours will be similar.”
“Then face the firing squad?”
Mr. Gurney shrugged. They both ate, slurping the only noise for a few minutes.
“Definitely the best chowder I can recall.”
“Thanks. Now in exchange, I’d like to hear your story.”
“My mother died two weeks ago, quickly, well, to me, since she never let me know she was sick. Afterward, I came up to close up the summerhouse and well, sailing is in my blood and I knew it would help me feel a little better. The hurricane had pushed out to sea, so I thought I’d be fine. A lightning strike nearly did my boat in, but lady luck pushed me into Kate’s cove. That’s about it.”
“T’weren’t lady luck, so much as the pull of Shipwreck Cove. Currents are such that any wreck within fifty miles tends to get sucked into that cove and then torn apart on the shallows. That’s why Kate’s house is so isolated. Most everyone wants deep water. It’s darn near impossible to take anything that draws deeper than a daysailer in or out of the cove without hitting rocks or a wreck. I’m amazed you didn’t hit anything on your way in.”
“She’s a fairly shallow drafting boat, but not that much so. The storm surge was several feet above normal tide, however, and the current pretty much drew me right down the center, sparing her from the cliffs. Dumb luck, I’d say, as it wouldn’t have taken much of a hit to finish her off.”
“So where are you from?”
“Home was Providence, summers were in Yarmouth. I live in Santa Barbara now.”
“California’s a long ways from here. What kind of engineering you do out there?”
“I, uh, captain a sub.”
“Oh, right, Navy man going by the ring.”
“Naval reserve now. It’s a private sub, owned by the Nelson Institute for Marine Science.”
“That’s that giant sub with the windows, you mean. You’re putting me on! You got shipwrecked in a cove in Maine after sailing a little boat in a hurricane and you’re the captain of the biggest sub in the world! Dang. Now that’s one heck of a tale!”
Lee brought his hand to his forehead. “Yep, that’s just about how I expect Admiral Nelson is going to react.”
“The shortwave’s all yours, my boy!” Mr. Gurney guffawed as he pointed the way. “I’m assuming you know how to use one,” he winked.
Lee, head hung low, made contact with the Institute. Angie arranged for a Coast Guard helicopter pickup late that afternoon. Lee took a sack of mail aboard at Mr. Gurney’s request. After he was dropped off at the Portland airport, Lee stopped by the airline counter to change his return flight to Santa Barbara that Angie booked to several days later. As long as he missed Seaview’s departure, he might as well finish closing up his mother’s summer house in Yarmouth. No, his house, now. Whatever was left of it after the storm. He rented a car and set off to see what was left of it.
Chapter 6 - Homeward Bound
Lee was pleased to discover that the summer house was intact, albeit without electricity or heat. Aside from clearing some brush, there was little he could fix himself with materials on hand. He arranged for minor repairs and upkeep to be done later by the winter caretaker that his mother had retained for years. Otherwise, Lee bundled up in sweaters and blankets, and rested and remembered, arriving at a more peaceful place than he had been before he’d been shipwrecked. Two days later, he caught commercial flights from Portland to Logan then to LA. and then puddle jumped to Santa Barbara. Angie arranged for a driver to meet him. Lee directed the driver to his home instead of the Institute since the Seaview was out on a mission.
A long, hot shower was high on Lee’s wish list. Then there was the beard. It would be ill met by his colleagues even though there were no actual regulations against one on Seaview. He went through three blades before successfully ridding himself of it.
Lee’s other hope in going home first was to find a message on his answering machine. While there were several, none were from Maine. Lee was disappointed but rationalized that even had she had wanted to call, she probably still didn’t have phone service.
Lee enjoyed the drive to the office, although using his calf to work the clutch led to a few grimaces. The Cobra, top down, sped merrily along the curves. Control of his car felt familiar and joyous after several weeks of having little control over his destinations. The Southern California weather was also a delight.
“Glad to have you back, Lee,” Angie chirped.
“Good to see you too.”
“Will you take me out later and tell me everything?”
“Sorry, Angie. Not much to tell.”
“Right. You were shipwrecked and found shelter with a hermit until you could get home. No interesting details to share at all?”
“Nope, afraid not. Besides, the hermit swore me to secrecy!”
He sidled up on the corner of her desk. “So, how much trouble am I in?” he smiled.
“He was pretty steamed that you’d gone sailing with a hurricane nearby, but then worry took over. Once you were found, he went back to hovering between furious and relieved. You could have provided a little more detail to the Coast Guard, you know. Lee Crane’s ‘slightly dinged up’ didn’t put anyone at ease. So what hurts?”
“Just a mild calf sprain.”
“It’s not like you to ground yourself for something like that.”
“I guess I needed the time to get my head on straight.”
“I’m so sorry about your mother, Lee. She was a lovely woman.”
“You sound a lot better now.”
“Nothing like surviving a shipwreck in a hurricane to give you perspective.”
“Shall we send a gift package from the Institute to your hermit friend? What do you think he might like?”
“What makes you think the hermit was a he?” Lee grinned a mile wide.
Angie had opened her mouth to ask when the intercom bellowed: “Angie!”
“Damn. Seaview should still be at sea. What happened?”
Angie put up a finger to hush Lee. “Yes, sir?”
“Bring me more coffee and I want to see Captain Crane the moment he arrives.”
“Guess I should go in, huh?”
“If you’d have called first, I might have suggested you extend your leave. He’s fit to be tied.”
“I’ll go be the sacrificial lamb, then. Would you mind bringing me a cup too?”
* * *
“Good morning, Admiral.”
“Lee, lad, how the dickens are you?”
“Fine, just fine.”
“Seen the doctor yet?”
“No, it’s nothing an Ace bandage won’t cure.”
“Will won’t like you deciding that.”
Lee shrugged. “I didn’t expect to find you here. What happened to the mission?”
“Aside from you missing it?” Nelson railed then calmed. “We aborted it and returned early this morning.”
“A number of troubling things.”
“Are you going to make me work for the information?”
“No, I’m just spinning a bit. Two days ago, Angie faxed me a copy of a letter that was hand-delivered here. The contents were downright bothersome. Right after that, I received some other disconcerting news. I decided it best to bring Seaview back home for inspection.”
“I’m not following you well, Admiral. What exactly needs inspection and what caused the sudden worry?”
“Ghosts of the past, lad, ghosts of the past. Many of Seaview’s original parts were produced by or for Conglomerated Industries. The letter suggested that some parts may fail from premature stress. Even though I don’t think the danger is imminent -- if there really is any -- if the letter is correct, the results of failure could be catastrophic. I decided to exercise caution for once.”
“I’m proud of you, sir.”
“Yes, well a certain Exec suggested that I think about what a certain AWOL Captain would do.”
“Hey, I was on official leave!”
“To close up a house, yes, to sail through a hurricane, the hell you were!”
“We still get most of our parts from Conglomerated. I suppose this means finding new suppliers. That could take some time.”
“No, this is an issue that goes back a long time, before Conglomerated’s management changed. I trust them completely now.”
“I’m not familiar with the company’s history, Admiral.”
“Nor should you be. You were still in Navy when Seaview was built. That son of a bitch Dirk Christie was running the company then.”
“Dirk Christie? That name rings a bell, a recent one too.”
“He’s been in federal prison for several years. Unfortunately, the bastard escaped from jail last week when the hurricane ripped through the Carolinas.”
“Oh, right, I heard that on the radio last week.”
“What I’d give to take his hide down.”
“His conviction had to do with that disaster on the Solaris, right? I can’t remember the trial, though. Did he plead out?”
“It was a short trial, and because of national security concerns, very little of it was publicly reported.”
“So do you want to share what exactly is in the letter you got and why it has you so rattled? Knowing you, you must have checked out the old Conglomerated parts for issues long before now.”
“Yes, of course. What I didn’t do is check out every part manufactured by outside subcontractors of Conglomerated, a damn stupid oversight. The letter says, among other things, that the herculite windows on Seaview may be unstable ten years earlier than expected. Apparently Christie tampered with the specifications for tempering transmitted by Conglomerated to the subcontractor. If that’s true, those windows are subject to structural failure anytime.”
“Have you looked into it?”
“It’s being analyzed by the best experts available as we speak. If the windows are bad now, we could be in dry dock for months!” Nelson banged a fist on his desk.
“Dare I ask whom the letter was from?”
“That’s the damnedest thing. It’s from a scientist who once worked for Christie, the one whose testimony convicted him.”
“What about that is surprising?”
“The letter is dated more than three years ago. It arrived here out of the blue by courier with no explanation for the delay.”
Lee’s head snapped to attention. “May I see the letter?”
Nelson pulled it out of his inbox. Lee glanced momentarily at the writing on the first page. “Anything else come with it?”
Nelson pointed to the wastebasket. “Just the envelopes.”
Lee reached into the waste can. He found two envelopes on top. The large envelope contained only Admiral Nelson’s name, no address, and the note: “Urgent - Hand Deliver by Courier”. The writing was unfamiliar. The second, smaller envelope was the one he’d found at Kate’s. Lee inhaled deeply in thought.
“What is it, Lee?”
“The scientist who turned Christie in, was it a woman?”
“Yes, that’s how the defense nearly torpedoed the case. She was involved with Christie personally and professionally. They tried to make it appear as if it was a matter of a woman scorned, that she’d set out to ruin him by sabotaging his business. As if what he did wasn’t bad enough, he destroyed the career of one of the brightest minds of your generation.” Nelson’s face was red with rage.
“What was her name?”
“Anne, Anne Simon. How I tried to get that girl to come to work for me. But old Harriman Nelson didn’t have the charm that Christie did, couldn’t sell the glamour he did.”
“Not to pry, Admiral, but were you interested in her for more than her work?”
“Oh, Lee, I’m old enough to be her father.”
“That doesn’t answer the question.”
“Really, Lee, no, it wasn’t like that.”
Lee continued to look questioningly at Nelson. “Are you being honest with yourself?”
“I felt strongly about her, Lee, but not that way, truly.”
“Nevertheless, is it possible that she might have interpreted your interest as unwelcome personal interest?”
“It never occurred to me, Lee, but damn it, you know how passionate I sometimes come across about what we do. If I think of it in that light, I might even have been responsible for pushing her further into Christie’s clutches.”
“What happened to Ms. Simon?”
“Dr. Simon -- she had a Ph.D. or two. God, I wish I knew for certain. She disappeared off the face of the earth after the trial -- the Witness Protection Program. I’ve always fostered hope that I’d hear from her again someday.”
“Because your door is always open and if ever she changes her mind, you’ll welcome her with open arms.”
“What? Where the hell did that come from?”
“Oh have I got a doozy of a story for you, Admiral.”
Chapter 7 - A Dubious Rescue Mission
Lee spent the next hour telling the Admiral about his week, excluding highly personal details. Nelson listened attentively, fighting off numerous urges to interrupt and question.
“I don’t suppose you have any pictures of Dr. Simon?”
“I’m sure I can rummage up one from my files, but I can’t imagine who else it could be. Can you?”
“No, I’d pretty much concluded the books were hers before I left. I just didn’t know who she was.”
Nelson turned his chair away from Lee, rolled it two feet to the right of his credenza, and stopped in front of a four foot tall locked filing cabinet. Lee knew this to be Nelson’s personal cabinet. Nelson unlocked it, reached into the third drawer, and pulled out a newspaper clipping of Dr. Anne Simon and Dirk Christie, which he handed to Lee. After a second’s look, Lee nodded affirmatively.
“Well, Lee, what do we do now?”
“She’s got a brilliant mind that going to waste. It’s ridiculous.”
“She’s a grown woman, Admiral. If she wanted to be elsewhere, she would go.”
“Oh, bosh. She just doesn’t realize she has other options, real options. Besides, with Christie on the loose, she’s in grave danger.”
“She obviously knew that. That’s why she wouldn’t let me stay another day, even though the roads still weren’t clear.”
“We can help her, Lee.”
“She doesn’t want our help.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I left the door open for her too. She hasn’t called.”
“What about this?” Nelson slammed the letter from her on the desk.
“That’s not a request for help. She’s helping us.”
“So I have to take her help and not return any? Don’t be absurd.”
“Admiral, this didn’t work the last time you pursued her. Maybe there’s a lesson there?”
“Lee Crane, sometimes you are the biggest stick in the mud!” Nelson lit a cigarette and paused. “And speaking of sticks in the mud, you have a wreck that you’re obligated to remove from her property. Don’t you think you should do that sooner rather than later?”
“Sure, sir. Why don’t we take the Seaview there to help while we’re at it?”
The Admiral sighed loudly in frustration. “Go on home for the rest of the day, Lee. We’ll talk more tomorrow. Let cooler heads prevail.”
“Yes, sir.” Lee left wondering if Nelson was referring to his own head or some imagined conduct of Lee’s he’d use to justify his own wants. It wouldn’t be the first time.
* * * * *
Lee had a fair inkling of the Admiral’s intentions when Chip called him later that night. “What’s up, Lee? The Admiral called and told me to show up first thing in the morning with a bag packed for a few days, for someplace colder than here. When I asked him if you were coming, he said he didn’t know.”
“Hard to know if you don’t ask.”
“He didn’t call you?”
“No, he’s busy pretending to me that he’s thinking before he acts.”
“So you know what it’s about, Lee?”
“More or less.”
“That’s all you’re going to tell me?”
“Yes, I’ll see you in the morning.”
“With a packed bag?”
“Someone’s got to handle him. Goodnight.”
Lee had difficulty falling asleep, troubled by several things. First, he’d left Kate when she was in danger. Had he known or understood, he wouldn’t have gone, or at the least he would have hovered nearby. Given that, he wondered why he argued with Nelson against going to help her. Was it really out of respect for Kate’s wishes, the true motivation for which he did not know when he’d left? Or was Lee somehow troubled by the underlying relationship between Kate and the Admiral, a relationship about which he knew Nelson was not being honest? After all, he kept clippings and a file about her in his personal cabinet, not the Institute’s. Then there was the puzzling question of why he kept a file on Anne Simon in the drawer marked “N-R”.
* * *
Lee arrived at Nelson’s office at 5:45 a.m. He hoped that being early would get him a private audience with the Admiral. Lee knocked on the door.
“Come in, Lee.”
“How’d you know?”
“Only time you’re not early is if you’ve been kidnapped or taken over by an alien.”
“I want you to reconsider this.”
“Look, the Justice Department knows about Christie’s escape. The U.S. Marshals will take care of her security if she’s in the Witness Protection Program. We don’t need to get in their crosshairs.”
“True, the Department is aware of the situation, but their resources in Maine are quite limited, especially so given the situation in the Carolinas. They indicated they would be delighted if we could provide her with private security.”
“She won’t react well to your bull in the china shop act. I don’t know the details, but I have a good hunch she didn’t the last time.”
“Then when she’s safe, she can tell me to stuff my job offer. This is something I need to do.”
“Why do you feel so strongly about this?”
“I told you yesterday, she has one of the finest scientific minds of your generation. Is that not enough? What’s the matter with you? Why don’t you want to help her?”
“I’m just trying to respect her wishes.”
“I’m just trying to give her the protection her government promised her.”
“There are things you’re not telling me, Admiral.”
“Nothing that we can’t cover as we travel.”
Lee knew he’d been outmaneuvered by the old man yet again. He could not help but laugh inwardly at the fact, even as he harbored serious doubts about what they were about to do.
“Anything special we need to take?”
“Your sidearm. I’ve taken care of everything else.”
“What does everything else include, Sir?”
“Sharkey and Kowalski will be meeting us there.”
“If we’re going on the Institute’s plane, why wouldn’t they go with us?”
“They’ll be bringing the Flying Sub.”
“What the devil? Why, Admiral?”
“I have my reasons.”
“Do you know how many UFO sightings will result?”
The Admiral smiled coyly. “It’s been a dull week in the Midwest.”
“You are going to explain it to me?”
“Later,” Nelson sighed in relief as Chip and Will Jamieson arrived, bags at their feet, puzzled looks on their faces.
“What’s this all about, Admiral?” the doctor asked.
“All in due course.”
“Captain, your leg is taped. What’s wrong with it?”
“Do you have x-ray vision or something, Doc?”
“I can tell by how you’re moving.”
“And by Mr. Morton’s big mouth,” Lee said casting a glance at his friend. “It’s just a mild calf strain, no big deal.”
“Well, I’ll have plenty of time to make that determination myself over the next few hours, won’t I?”
* * *
Once on board the plane, the Admiral opted for a nap instead of talking. Chip followed suit.
“Pull up the pant leg,” Jamie demanded.
Lee rolled his eyes.
“Don’t mess with me, Lee. I have a gown in this bag and if you don’t cooperate, I’ll insist on a full exam.”
Lee huffed and pulled up the pant leg. “Honestly, Jamie, besides a couple of cuts and bruises, I got a mild calf sprain.”
Jamie untaped Lee’s leg, moved it around a little and re-taped it without saying a word.
“I told you it wasn’t serious.”
“History has taught me to discount your self diagnoses, although I’ll concede that you’re right this time.”
“No compliments on my taping skills?”
“With all the practice you’ve had, I’ve come to expect a level of excellence. Lee, I’m worried about the Admiral. What’s really going on?”
“He’s not being forthcoming with me either, Jamie. There’s something very personal going on.”
“Stop whispering about me you two. Get some shuteye. There won’t be a lot on the other end.”
Two hours later, the Admiral woke Chip and Jamie for the promised powwow. Lee did not appear to have rested, but to have spent the time staring at the Admiral.
“Our goal is to find Dr. Simon and bring her back to Santa Barbara.”
“Whether or not she wants to come?” Lee asked pointedly.
“For now, yes. It’s a matter of national security.”
“How? It’s been years since she had any access to any classified data,” Lee argued.
“It doesn’t get old that fast.”
“Then what do you mean ‘find her’? I’m unaware that she’s missing.”
“According to our source, Lee, she left her home shortly after you departed, ostensibly to report to a safe house. Our source believes she intends to return, however.”
“Yes, he is her contact in the Witness Protection Program. He’s a retired policeman.”
“What does he think?”
“He said that she was very torn up when he gave her the news. He wasn’t sure that she was going to comply, and frankly, at the time, he wasn’t sure how she was supposed to comply. The roads were still not entirely passable.”
“We had to leave the car a few miles outside of town.”
“Mr. Gurney offered his car, but she wouldn’t take it. Then he arranged for a friend to clear the way from her house with a bulldozer.”
“So do we know if she left?” Chip asked.
“Yes, Mr. Gurney saw her car pass through later in the day. That said, he wasn’t convinced she was going to report to the safe house.”
“Why?” Lee asked.
“Because she did not ask him to look after the chickens.”
“With due respect, Admiral,” Chip offered, “an escaped felon may be coming after her for revenge and chickens are relevant?”
“I’ll field that one. Yes, Chip,” Lee said.
“Care to explain that to me?”
“Let me try, Commander Morton,” the Doctor interrupted. “Can you imagine someone who -- for whatever reason -- always places other’s needs and welfare above their own?”
Lee glanced crossly at the doctor.
“We’re talking chickens, here,” Chip said. “You know, you can just open the coop doors and let them out to forage for insects. They’ve managed to feed themselves without human help for thousands of years. Organic, non-grain fed, cage free, delicious. The birds and their eggs.”
“All true, but I think we have to presume that Mr. Gurney knows her better than we do,” said the Admiral.
“That and the fact that she has yet to report to the safe house, correct, Admiral?” Lee half asked, half stated.
Nelson’s eyes narrowed at Lee. “Yes, that’s correct.”
“Meaning the Justice Department has bowed out -- since she’s violated the terms of the Witness Protection Program?”
“Did you make your own inquiries?” Nelson accused Lee.
“No, I just know how the game is played.”
“So what’s the plan and why am I along?”
“Hopefully just for good cheer and company, Doctor,” Nelson answered.
“Right. I brought my bag — the big one — just in case.”
“Good. When we get to Brunswick NAS, we’ll be splitting up. Will and Chip, you’ll be flown to a private airfield near Bar Harbor. A car will be waiting for you. You’ll check from Ellsworth north as far as Machias, following up on Mr. Gurney’s theory that in lieu of following the Department of Justice’s order to report to a safe house, she went on a supply run. Be discreet as we may not be the only ones looking for her. I’ve packed a briefcase for you with more details and a DynaTAC since most of the phone lines in the area are still down. Use the battery judiciously.”
“Sounds like we’re looking for a needle in a haystack, Admiral,” Will said.
“Maine’s just a series of small towns.”
“Filled with people who don’t like to talk about other people’s business,” Lee added. “So what about you and me?”
“Lee, you don’t need to be running around on that leg. We’ll be going to Anne’s house. Kowalski and Sharkey will meet us there with FS1. ”
Crane withheld the myriad questions he had. He knew Nelson was holding back, but he didn’t want to push him in front of Chip and Will. From experience, he knew that could end badly. The others must have sensed the same thing, because no one asked any follow up questions. Indeed, there was little conversation relating to Kate for the rest of the journey.
Moments after the plane arrived in Brunswick, a naval lieutenant boarded and handed Admiral Nelson a manila envelope bearing “Confidential” and “Urgent” stamps. “Welcome to Brunswick NAS, Admiral. The plane you requested is standing by. There’s been a slight delay in the helicopter’s arrival, however.”
The Admiral looked slightly exasperated. “Will, Chip, run along. Just keep your eyes and ears open. Contact me immediately if you learn anything.”
Both Chip and Will looked puzzled. This was hardly a job for which either was well-qualified. Nevertheless, they acceded to the Admiral’s wishes. Personally, Chip relished the opportunity to eat cold water lobster as much as possible on the way.
The lieutenant continued: “Any time you are ready, Admiral Nelson, I’ll escort you to HQ.”
Lee peeked outside and saw a jeep, complete with a master-at-arms. “Escort, huh?”
The Admiral looked just as confused as Lee.
Chapter 8 - A Lot of Explaining To Do
Nelson held the envelope and waited for the lieutenant to exit.
“You need me to leave too, Admiral?”
“No, don’t be silly.” Nelson unsealed the envelope and read the single page quickly. “Damn it.”
“What is it?”
“The Joint Chiefs want me to join them in a video call an hour from now. It’s expected to last at least an hour.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Scream. Barring that, I guess I’ll send you ahead. I’ll meet up with you as soon as I can.”
“That gives us approximately fifty minutes for you to explain things to me.”
Nelson’s head hung low. “It’s a complicated story, Lee. One that began years ago and for which I feel guilt.”
“I’m the reason for Anne’s troubles.”
“I’m completely lost. How about starting at the beginning?”
“I will, but first, I have to tell you that you are right. Anne didn’t report to the safe house. The Justice Department concluded that it was intentional on her part and has withdrawn protection. That’s why I must protect her. And you, if you choose to help.”
“I’m here. I’ve chosen to help her. Now let me in on the facts so I know what we’re up against. Why are you so deeply invested in pursuing Dirk Christie?”
“Lee. I had a significant role in bringing Dirk Christie to justice.”
“Big enough to make an enemy for life?”
“Yes, I’ve received two telephone threats since he escaped.”
“You what? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Please, Lee, calm down. I don’t view his threats toward me as all that serious.”
“What did they say?”
“Pretty generic stuff, like ‘your time is coming, it’s payback time, Nelson.’”
“Nothing specific at all?”
“Lee, I know what Christie’s issues with me are. I know what the threat means.”
“Okay, just tell me the story.”
“You remember the disaster on the Solaris?”
“Yes, it was tragic. An engine room blast. Twenty-four sailors died, many more were injured.”
“After the accident, I was brought in to consult as to possible causes. It was a difficult investigation, Lee. Looking under the microscope at bits of parts recovered from the scene, parts covered with the blood and residue of the dead. When we finished looking, both the metallurgists and I concluded the accident was a result of defective or inferior parts from Conglomerated. But it was the way the parts appeared to have been fabricated that set off the bigger alarm, Lee. What we found were parts that could pass a visual inspection, but had been structurally flawed. When we looked at similar parts elsewhere on the ship, we found more of the same to confirm our conclusions.”
“Christie blames you for discovering that?”
“No, Lee. And if I’d simply turned over my findings to the Navy at that point, Conglomerated and Christie would have mades some apologies, paid some fines and that would have been the end of it. Twenty-four sailors would still be dead. But because of what I did, more people were hurt or killed.”
“What did you do, Admiral?”
“I’d known Anne Simon for some time. She’d met Dirk several years after he founded Conglomerated and went to work for him. They were living together when the Solaris incident happened. They were an odd couple, but they were devoted to each other. When it came to the business, he was a consummate businessman and salesman. She understood the technical details of the product. I reached out to Anne privately, to let her know what we’d found, and to express some bigger concerns.”
“Why would you do that, Admiral, tip off the company like that?”
“Because as I said, I knew Anne, I knew her values. She was in a position to delve in and discover what had happened unlike anyone else, and before NIS could have obtained the legal authority to begin a search.”
“Why would you ask her to do that given her relationship with Christie?”
“I knew she’d want to clear him, but I also knew she’d do the right thing if she found evidence that implicated him or anyone in the company.”
“I still don’t understand why you didn’t let the investigation proceed through official channels at that point. Were you concerned about Dr. Simon being implicated too?”
“No, Lee, I wasn’t. I knew Dirk Christie had connections all through the government. You don’t get to be that big and powerful a government contractor without them. I knew the minute we kicked that report upstairs, before the first subpoena or search warrant got issued, the calls to Christie would begin. By the time the investigators got into Consolidated’s records, evidence — if there was any — would be gone. That said, in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t done what I did.”
“You pitted her against Christie.”
“Yes, with all the bad fallout you can imagine. She did look and she did find proof that Christie personally altered government specs before parts were manufactured. She made copies of the documents she found and sent them to me.”
“Why copies, not the originals?”
“Lee, I was playing at a game I shouldn’t have been and then I brought her in on it. Neither of us were lawyers.”
“You were trying to protect her then just like now, weren’t you?”
“For god’s sake, yes, Lee. Please stop interrupting and let me spit this out. I turned the copies over to NIS. As predicted, by the time they got warrants, the originals were gone. That meant only one person could authenticate the copies in a courtroom: Anne.
Anne was horrified to discover what Dirk had done, but she kept quiet. He hadn’t yet figured it was she who turned over the evidence to me. He tried to get her to leave the country with him as soon as he got word of probable indictments. She called to tell me, trusted me to do the right thing. I passed it on to NIS. They arrested Christie at the gate and took Anne into protective custody.
Lee, from there, things spiraled downward. Things came out that had I known, I’d never have made the call to NIS, for Anne’s sake. It turned out that the Treasury Department had a parallel investigation running on Dirk Christie and Consolidated for money laundering. Christie was funneling money out of the country to Swiss Bank accounts through corporate shells. Once they dug deep enough into Christie’s history and the shell companies, the Treasury Department concluded that the company was founded with underworld money. Christie turns out to be the illegitimate son of Ronnie Scamorza.”
“Holy shit is right, the mob was the face behind the biggest U.S. military contractor. Then it got worse, Lee. Investigators also discovered that a number of these wire transfers occurred shortly after calls between Dirk Christie’s personal and office phone numbers and the People’s Republic Embassy in Hong Kong.”
“Are you saying Christie was in bed with the PR? That would be grounds for charges of treason. Surely I would have heard about that, Admiral, but I never did.”
“No, you didn’t, Lee. That was too much scandal, too much embarrassment, for the government to put up evidence of Consolidated’s mob dealings and working with the enemy! And there were still billions of dollars tied up in existing work with Consolidated, work that if not completed would set back programs by years. The decision at that point was to limit the damage. The government wanted to oust Christie and seize the company with the minimum public exposure to the truth.”
“So no treason charges, no money laundering charges?”
“No, the truth is the government hoped Christie would agree to plead to lesser charges.”
“Did he? I don’t remember news of a trial.”
“Not before trial, he didn’t. Then came an attempt on Anne’s life on the courthouse steps on the day her testimony was to begin. The U.S. Marshal protecting her was killed. Anne was wounded in the shoulder. She insisted on testifying despite her wound. After some first aid was administered, the judge allowed it. He didn’t tell the jury what had happened specifically and he warned the jury to make no conclusions about her injury. They had to know, however. Everyone in the courthouse knew by then. If she didn’t testify then, she might never get another chance. After she was released as a witness, she was entered into the Witness Protection Program. I haven’t seen her since.”
“So Christie has tried to kill her once before.”
“I think it may have been the Scamorzas trying to protect their financial interest and Christie, rather than Christie himself. Christie had an ace up his sleeve that he hadn’t yet played.”
“His defense was to put the blame for the bad parts on Anne.”
“She certainly had the technical know how. Did Christie?”
“No, not without help.”
“Is it possible that Anne did it?”
“No. Without Anne’s finding and turning over the documents, there would have been no case against Conglomerated for anything more than negligence. Anne also warned us about the windows.”
“Three years after the trial.”
“The letter was dated days after the trial when she was already in the hands of the Witness Protection Program. She explained she didn’t remember Christie’s questions about the herculite until then and the focus at the time was on what Consolidated was producing, not subbing out.”
“But she didn’t mail it then, did she?”
“Lee, so much was going on, she probably forgot to mail it or couldn’t do it while the Witness Protection Program was supervising her so actively. Why would she have forwarded it now if it implicates her? No one forced her too.”
“Maybe her conscience did.”
“Lee, do you really believe that after you met her, spent time with her?”
“No, not really, but the questions have to be asked.”
“Trust me, they were asked. The government just couldn’t afford the embarrassment of bringing the full case against Christie.”
“I suppose, but I still have one more unanswered question, Admiral. Why do you keep a file on Dr. Anne Simon in the N-R drawer of your filing cabinet?”
Nelson gulped some air and turned pale. “I don’t suppose you’ll accept bad filing skills as an answer?”
Chapter 9 - Keeping Secrets
Admiral Nelson plopped into a chair. He looked defeated.
“Never mind, Admiral. It’s not important.” Lee poured a glass of water and handed it to Nelson. While Nelson gulped the entire glass, Lee answered a knock at the door by the Lieutenant.
“The chopper is here, so I guess I’ll get going, Admiral.”
“Sit down, Lee. The truth is going to come out sooner or later.”
“Admiral, you don’t owe me any explanations about your private life.”
“What exactly was that brain of yours thinking about Anne and me, Lee?”
“I’m a little embarrassed to say, now. When you opened the ’N-R’ drawer, I started to think ‘N’ for Nelson, like maybe an illegitimate daughter? Or more remotely maybe an impulsive Mia Farrow-Frank Sinatra type wedding?”
“No, not even close, Lee. It was under the “R”. Anne Simon was born Anne Rutenberg. Her name changed when she was adopted by relatives.”
“She’s related to Erving & Rose Rutenberg?”
“She was their daughter, Lee. They were railroaded, victims of the time.”
“The communist witch hunts of the fifties?”
“And no one in the government knew Erving & Rose Rutenberg’s daughter was the principal scientist overseeing government projects at Conglomerated? No one did background checks?” Lee asked.
“On what? A name change at the age of 7? There was nothing to find. Computerization was in its infancy.”
“Unless I’m missing the mark, Admiral, I’m guessing the government learned it during the investigation and began to suspect her involvement on the basis of her family name?”
“Well, there was the small matter that she was listed as a joint owner on several of the Swiss bank account that Christie opened. The son of a bitch had to know how that would look if her relationship to the Rutenbergs was discovered. As it was discovered. Had the Solaris not been such a tragedy, had only one or two died, I think the prosecutor would have let it go with a slap on the wrist. He knew the potential for a trial to turn into a circus.”
“Right, mobsters and the daughter whose parents were convicted of treason were running one of the military’s largest contractors.”