Bear River Rendezvous

by

Sue Kite

Part Three

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

They saw the old farmhouse a short while before they got there. Chip eyed it hungrily, knowing of the warmth it would afford. He also realized this would give him the opportunity to let Nikki know that he was all right. Nikki-what had she been thinking through the past twenty hours? Surely she wouldn’t have believed what the scene probably looked like. Still, she had to have been worried. He had been worried.

On the trip back, Farnsworth had contacted his wife with a walkie-talkie and informed her that he was bringing Chip and Lee home with him. When they got to the house, he drove his machine right up to the back door. Chip slowly slid off, feeling his joints creak painfully. In this he would have to agree with Lee-despite the fact that he was a Chicago boy; this was just too cold to be out in. He stumbled and felt the farmer’s hand steadying him. He turned to the other machine that had parked next to them. The younger boy had slid off and was apparently trying to figure out how to help Lee, who hadn’t moved. He was slumped over Mark, who seemed perplexed as to how to proceed, too.

Chip started to help the boy, but was held back by Farnsworth. "If you think you can make it into the house on your own, the boys and I will get your friend."

Chip realized that the farmer was right. He really couldn’t help Lee right now. The main thing was for them to get into the warmth. Chip headed for the door, which was opened by a middle-aged, medium height, dark-haired woman. He figured she was Farnsworth’s wife.

"I’m sure you’re half frozen. Come in quickly, please." She told him as she passed him and went out the door.

"Yes, ma’am, gladly," Chip responded as he walked into the warmth of a large hallway. The heat seemed to envelope him, caressing him with fingers of safety and relief. "Thank you," he breathed. He turned to see how Lee was doing and saw the others just coming through the outer door. Chip went on through this alcove area and into an even warmer kitchen. A large oil lantern lit the room.

"Dad called and told us he was bringing you here," a girl who looked to be about twelve said to him, her gray eyes large in curiosity as well as a little . . . fear, Chip wondered?

"I know and I’m grateful to him," Chip said, his voice rough as though it needed to thaw, too.

"If you’ll sit here, I can give you some water or hot cider…. If you want some," the girl added.

Even the hard wooden chair was warm. Chip pulled his gloves off and placed his hands flat on the small kitchenette table, feeling the warmth seep into his stiff fingers. He got up as Farnsworth and his wife and one boy helped Lee in. The woman gazed at him meaningfully for a moment and then looked back at her husband. Apparently they had talked while bringing Lee in.

Lee groaned softly and Chip was immediately next to him. "Lee?" They got the injured man to a chair in the kitchen where he immediately laid his head on a table.

"I’m going to call an ambulance," Farnsworth said, taking two steps to the phone by the door through which they had just come. In the light of the bright kitchen it was obvious the damage the bullet had done by the large stain on the back of Lee’s coat.

"Chip?" Lee asked, his voice shaky from the cold. He didn't raise his head from the table to speak.

Chip sat down next to him. "Yeah?"

There was a sigh and then, "If I’ve died . . . and I’m in hell…." There was a longer pause and Chip was afraid Crane had lost consciousness. "Le’ me stay…." Lee finally said with weary decisiveness.

Chip cocked an eyebrow in surprise, heard a soft cough and looked up to see the woman’s mouth quirked into a smile.

Then she became all business. "This is the worst snowstorm I have ever seen in this part of the country. I don’t know how long it’s going to take for someone to get out here. The lights have been off since early this morning. I can guarantee that although they are extremely efficient, the plows haven’t been able to keep up with this snowstorm." She studied Chip for another moment and he was reminded of his mother’s scrutiny at times when he was suspected of having done something wrong. Then she added softly, "I don’t understand what happened over there in the pass, but Don assured me you two are unarmed and in need of help. Until the proper authorities are able to come, I will not refuse you that help, especially your companion here." She paused, even as her gaze rested on Lee, the bloodstained coat and his apparent lassitude. "But I’ve got the children to think about."

Chip couldn’t blame her concern. "Ma’am, my name is Commander Chip Morton, this is my commanding officer, Captain Lee Crane. I don’t know what was reported, but Lee shot in self-defense. The other man wasn’t a cop or official of any kind. He was an enemy agent who had arranged the deaths of several people a couple of years back and had a particular reason for wanting Lee dead." He looked back at Lee, who hadn’t moved. "Regardless, I won’t do anything to your children or to you or your husband, Mrs. Farnsworth. I know Lee wouldn’t either."

She nodded and pulled another chair near Crane. "My name is Julia, Commander." She turned back to Lee. The two younger children stood near the other doorway, their eyes large and round, and simply stared. Julia Farnsworth looked up at them and said, "Go in and make sure the fire in the living room is banked up and that there’s plenty of wood. Also fix up the hide-a-bed couch so Captain Crane and Commander Morton can have a comfortable place to rest until an ambulance comes. It will be warmer in there."

The boy and girl left and Julia turned back to Morton. "Can I assume this is a gunshot wound from that enemy agent?" Before he could answer, she turned to Mark. "Start the kettle boiling. At the very least, these men need something warm to drink."

Chip figured that everyone in five states, maybe the whole country would have heard about the incident and he was curious that she apparently didn’t have much information. "No, ma'am, it wasn’t from Hartsfield. It was from a Utah policeman, I think. Or a rubber-necking wanna-be cowboy," he added.

She considered and her face took on a more serious demeanor. "He’s probably lost more than a fair share of blood. Especially since you’ve been hiking through the mountains." She felt Lee’s forehead and he jerked his head up before laying it back down. Julia turned to her husband. "Don, are they coming? We’re not just dealing with hypothermia and exhaustion here."

He had put the phone down. "Phone’s dead. Been a long time since we’ve had a storm quite like this one. I don’t even remember the last time we lost our services for this long."

Chip blanched. "Mr. Farnsworth, my wife’s at Bear Lake. She’s probably worried sick. And there’s Lee, too. Do you have any idea how long it’ll be?"

Farnsworth shook his head. "We’ll get electricity before phone, I venture," he said, not unkindly. "Of course, since we don’t have phone service, we’ll probably get a visit from Brother, uh, Jim Mortensen before too long. He’s our home teacher. That’s a neighbor who keeps his eye on us, helps us out in times of need. He lives right in Paradise. Has a short wave radio, too."

Chip raised an eyebrow. "And he’d get out in this?"

"Has a snowmobile like I do. Has a small ‘cat, too."

"I guess we’ll just have to wait," Chip said with a sigh.

Julia leaned toward Lee and pulled his gloves off. "Captain. We need to get your coat off. Check your wound. Re-bandage it." When he didn’t immediately respond, she repeated, "Captain?"

Lee stirred again. "’kay," he replied, opening his eyes languidly and studying the woman’s face. He pushed back from the table and slowly sat up, trying to also push away the tremendous lassitude the warmth had produced. Not that he hadn’t already felt like curling up somewhere and shoving the world aside…. "Name’s Lee."

"Help me get his coat off," Julia said to her husband as she undid the faux bone buttons of his sheepskin coat. "Lee, this is going to probably be very uncomfortable."

He sighed. "Been uncomf’t’ble . . . since we left that . . . uh…." What was the name of that place, he wondered disjointedly. "Uh, left Maddox."

She raised an eyebrow. Carefully, they eased off the coat and Julia stared aghast at the blood soaked shirt underneath. "I don’t want to do more than I have to because I’m not a doctor, but we have to get this bandaged."

"Chip bandaged," Lee began, but he wasn’t able to finish. Now that she had begun, the woman wasn’t wasting time. Lee felt the torn muscles protesting every movement, but he held his peace, biting his lip to keep from moaning.

"Will, bring in the first aid kit," she said without looking up.

"Already got it, Mom." The young man set a large tackle box on the table and opened it up for his mother.

Chip came back and sat down near him. Lee remembered that he was trying to call Nikki. "She okay, Chip?" he asked, bringing his senses back into more awareness.

Chip shook his head. "Don’t know. Phone service is out."

Lee only sighed as the woman unbuttoned his shirt. He reached feebly to help, but she wordlessly pushed his hand away.

"What can I do, ma’am?" Chip asked.

"Take off your coat and have something warm to drink," she said tersely.

Chip did as he was told. Will gave him a glass of water that he quaffed down. The effect of the lukewarm water hitting his stomach was evident for all to see. With a sigh, he handed the glass back the young man, who refilled it for him.

"Spare some, Mr. Morton," Lee growled, eyeing the liquid jealously. He was so thirsty all of a sudden. And it didn’t matter what it was as long as it was wet.

Chip flashed him a brief grin. "You’ll get yours when Mrs. Farnsworth is finished with you, Skipper."

"Indeed, you will, Lee. You need to re-hydrate." She continued to administer to him with a quick efficiency. When the wet gauze she was using to clean around the wound touched his skin, Lee shivered violently. "I’m sorry, Captain. I am being as quick and gentle as I can."

Crane took a shuddering breath. "I know."

"Mark, go get one of your dad’s clean flannel shirts and his robe. Make sure Leesa and Tommy have fixed the living room for our guests."

"Sure, Mom," the older boy said and exited the room.

"So you pilot a submarine?" she asked as she finished cleaning around the still seeping wound.

Lee repressed another shudder. "Yes, ma’am. Chip is my XO."

"Seaview, ma’am," Chip added, watching the proceedings.

"You two forget my name? I’m Julia, not ma’am. And what in the world brought you this far east?" she asked, placing clean gauze pads on the wound. "By the way, I’m not going to do a thing to the actual wound, Lee, except cover it with a sterile dressing. When you are in a hospital and in a doctor’s care, they can deal with it better than I can."

"I ‘preciate all you’re doing, Julia," Lee said then sucked in a quick breath. The area right around the wound seemed intensely sensitive.

"My wife’s relatives invited us out for New Year’s," Chip explained. "Some of them are from around here. We were going to meet them at Bear Lake to bring in the . . . um, bring in the New Year," Chip said, his face showing several different emotions.

"Brought it in good, didn’t we?" Lee asked, biting his lip as Julia taped the bandage to his back and then wrapped strips of gauze around his chest to make sure it stayed put.

"Yeah," Chip agreed glumly. "This isn’t exactly what Nikki figured on when she said she would accept whatever dangers came with my job."

"Sorry," Lee murmured, feeling keenly the fact that Chip had been placed in harm’s way because of him. Again. And was it over yet? He had no way of knowing.

"It’s not your fault, Lee. Hartsfield made his choices years ago. And besides, he screwed up this time," Chip said with a wry grin.

"Huh?" Lee asked, surprised. Chip’s comment woke him up even more. "What d’you mean?"

"He could have picked a place and time when there wouldn’t have been witnesses. Where you would have been found dead by an unknown assailant heaven only knows when. He’d have been Scot free and no one the wiser."

"After we get a clean shirt on you, Lee, I’m going to put your arm in a sling," Julia broke in. "I think the arm needs to be immobilized to help keep the back muscles from aggravating your wound."

He nodded. This time there wasn’t any reason to leave his arm free. He wasn’t going anywhere. "Thanks." He turned back to Chip. "’spect half the state thinks we’re cop killers." He was irritated at his inability to enunciate. Were his vocal cords attached to his back?

"I didn’t see the news report," Don added. "But I did get enough from Bro. Mortensen last night to know that is kind of what people heard and are believing."

"But I saw what happened and I believe I have the proof that says it was self-defense," Chip replied. "Anyway, that cop killer stuff will unravel as soon as they figure out that Hartsfield and his crony weren’t real cops."

"Proof?" Lee asked, confused. "What proof?" Julia and Don were helping him on with the clean flannel shirt. It was a little too big, but it was warm and soft. He grimaced at the pain that every little bit of movement was giving him, but it was far less than before. When the shirt was on and buttoned, Julia fixed the sling for his arm. The thick terry robe was placed around his shoulders. Lee yawned and blinked. So tired.

"Why don’t we go into the living room where it’s warmer," Farnsworth suggested. "And we can talk. I would really like to know just what happened up there. After being with you two men for the past little while, I believe you're telling me the truth."

"’Preciate that," Lee replied. He slowly got up, holding on to the edge of the kitchen table to control the sudden wash of dizziness that passed over him. Don stayed by his side, for which Lee was intensely grateful.

"You can relax on the couch, Lee," he said. "The kids have fixed the hide-a-bed for both of you."

Lee thought about sleep, the couch and how tired he was and then he remembered that someone was supposed to be coming. Not an ambulance, but a neighbor, he thought they had said. His thoughts ran like squirrels in cages, each one gibbering at the same time, confusing and frantic. Would it be the neighbor, or someone Hartsfield had hired? When they came, would the ambulance crew be legit? How extensive was Hartsfield’s network? How many people did he have working for him? Who else beside that other guy was under his employ? Were he and Chip really safe? Were these people safe? But what could he do about it in this condition? Chip looked ready to drop. Lee felt ready to drop. "Don’t think I’d be comf’ble there, Don," he finally said as they walked into the warm and cozy living room. There was a large couch, the bed already pulled out and made up for them. "One of th’ kitchen chairs."

"You didn’t look any too comfortable in the one you were sitting in," he said, incredulous.

"Backwards," was all he said, trying hard not to give in and curl up on the bed right now.

Don nodded and had one of the children go back in and get a chair. Julia followed him with a pitcher and glasses and a curious look on her face. She placed them on the end table next to one of the couches and motioned for Mark to place the chair next to it. Chip plopped down on the side of the hide-a-bed nearest to Lee and watched him settle on the chair. "You sure you don’t want my company, Lee?" he asked, his eyes showing their concern.

Crane shook his head and leaned over the back of the chair, his chin resting on the top rung, watching the fire. He sighed, and then reached for the very enticing glass of water.

 

*******

 

 

Chapter 9

 

Despite the folded afghan draped over the back of the chair, Lee Crane felt the hard edge of the wooden chair back digging into his Adam’s apple again and he came to more full wakefulness-again. A quick scan showed that the two younger children were gone. Muted noise in the basement told him where they most likely were. Don Farnsworth and the two older boys were also gone. Apparently, they had gone out to the barn or wherever they did farm chores during the day. He hadn’t even heard them leave. Lee could hear the only slightly muted chugging of the diesel generator outside and briefly thought of his training on diesel-powered boats. Chip lay curled up asleep on the rollaway he and Julia had tried to get Lee to sack out on. Butch sat at the foot of the bed, whining softly in his sleep. Probably the rabbit that got away.

"How are you feeling, Lee?"

"Better, thanks." He stared into the fire, felt the warmth on his face. The chill at his back made him shiver slightly.

"Captain, you really could get more comfortable on the couch, even with your wound," Julia said softly from the floor in front of him. "Certainly better than sitting on that chair." She was now sitting on the beanbag chair vacated by her oldest. Lee suspected that the plan between the husband and wife was for one of them to stay with he and Chip in case…. In case of what, Lee didn’t have the energy to guess. Despite the fact that the farm couple had said they believed what they had told them of the events of the past almost twenty-four hours—there still had to be some caution. The children, as Julia had pointed out earlier.

"Maybe," he said non-commitally.

She paused, only studying him for a while before she spoke again. "Captain, I know you are struggling to stay awake when you need to be in bed. Why?"

"Struggling?"

"I believe you and Chip were very up front with us this morning, but now you’re not. Why don’t you want to go to sleep? Your body definitely craves it-needs it. You're not doing yourself any good...." Again she studied him, and then something seemed to startle her. "Are you worried that Hartsfield might have more operatives out here?" she asked, almost tentative.

Lee grimaced, knowing she was right, but not knowing how to answer her at first. Instead, he stiffly reached for the glass sitting on a little table within reach. It was empty. He didn't remember finishing it. All night, all day he had been so thirsty, most likely a result of blood loss. It had seemed, at first, as though he couldn’t get enough. Wryly, Lee figured he’d have to use the head soon.

"Let me get you some more, Lee," Julia said, starting to get up.

"No, don’t worry about it. Of course, if you had some coffee," he suggested.

She smiled and shook her head. "No, and even if we had, it wouldn’t be good for you, especially in your condition."

"I know. And as to your question . . . Yeah, I’m worried."

"But he’s dead, the other man was injured. Surely you’d be safe now."

That was a good point, still…. "You never know in that business."

"I remember the incident in the People’s Republic recently, so I suppose you know a great deal about ‘that business,’ too, don’t you?"

"Yes," he murmured. Some of that ‘ONI business’ still continued to haunt him, even during those times he had been inactive in it. Some of the behaviors, emotions, thoughts and dreams. "Sometimes more than I care to." He recalled a few of his last missions. "Hartsfield fooled ONI for the good part of a year. He was very good." She didn’t say anything. Lee continued to stare into the flames, letting his eyes un-focus and the bright orange and yellow flames fill his consciousness.

"You never said why Hartsfield was after you yesterday," she said. "Not really." Then she paused and added, "Of course, if you don’t want to talk about it…."

"No, it’s okay," Lee assured her. "Hartsfield was uncovered."

"By you?"

"No, not really." As succinctly as he could, because even talking seemed tedious, Lee explained what had happened two years previously.

Julia’s eyes grew large, listening to him. "I’m so sorry about your mother, Lee."

Lee rested his arm on the chair rung and then rested his head on his arm. "That’s probably why it appeared as though I wantonly killed him." And he had to admit, this had been one death he had not felt too badly being responsible for.

"No, I would say that it would explain why you didn’t stop to negotiate with him," Julia replied decisively.

Lee just gazed at her without answering.

"Do you really think he might have others working for him—posing as cops or ambulance drivers?" she prodded.

Lee raised an eyebrow. Did he really believe that? He answered himself almost immediately. Yes, or he wouldn’t be forcing his body to remain on alert, or sitting and worrying about it. How many operatives would Hartsfield gather for a job like this? Lee wondered if he was being overly paranoid? Or stupid? "I don’t know. But, yes, it’s possible," he admitted. Then he smiled softly. "Ever thought of being a psychologist? You’re good. You pulled stuff out of me that I haven’t allowed professionals to dig out." And it was true. He didn’t know why he had told her about his mother’s death and the other things that happened during that time over two years ago.

She chuckled softly. "MS, Psychology, BS, sociology, Utah State University, classes of ’65 and ‘63," she said. Lee gaped at her, but before he could say anything, she continued. "Thank you, Lee. I was wondering if I still had the knack. Not that I was trying to ‘practice’ on you." She also reassured him with a smile. "I left my field for an even tougher job—that of mother. No regrets. However, I’m taking refresher courses here and there so I can get back into the field when the kids are out of high school. If nothing else, it will help pay for their college tuition."

"You’ll be very good at it." His admiration for her rose considerably. He slowly, stiffly stood up. The chair wasn’t comfortable anymore—if it ever had been. He felt slightly dizzy and hung on for a moment. Then he thought he heard something buzzing, and wondered if it was in his head.

Julia was up out of her chair in an instant. "You taking me up on the offer to rest on the bed?"

Lee felt the room balance before answering. "Probably—after you direct me to the head . . . uh, bathroom."

She gave directions, accompanied him to the door and waited outside while he took care of his business. She walked back with him, this time to the bed and knelt beside it while he sat down on the edge.

Chip, who had been sprawled comfortably on the bed before, was now sitting up, looking at both of them. "Decided to join me?" was his first comment. Then, "I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that Hartsfield had anyone else working for him, but I’ll take the next watch anyway."

"You were listening?"

"Of course. How could I sleep with you beating the bulkheads yakking the way you were," he said with a smile. "I was wondering why you didn’t hit the sack earlier."

"Thanks, Chip." Lee realized he was rapidly losing the fight to stay awake, no matter what his paranoia’s were. Chip moved over a little more and Lee carefully, with Julia’s help, settled as comfortably as he could. The muscles protested vehemently, feeling hot as well as painful, but soon he was lying down, and Julia pulled a blanket up over him.

His eyelids closed; the bed felt wonderful. The last thing he thought of was how vulnerable they all were, but even that drifted into nothingness. Chip had the conn and would take care of anything that came up.

Chip swung his legs over the side of the couch. "You really are good," he murmured, trying not to wake Lee. Not that he figured he could have right now. "To get him to tell you that much…." He could see her blush in the snow-enhanced glare through the front window. "I, uh, appreciate everything you’ve done for us," Chip told her as he watched Crane settle into a very deep, and for the most part restful sleep. Lee looked flushed and Chip figured that his friend was developing a fever. "It was very hard for him during that time," Chip added. Lee moaned softly and then sighed. Chip wondered when anyone was going to get through. He also wondered when he would be able to get through to Nikki.

A knock startled him and caused Butch to raise his head and woof softly. Then the old dog got up and padded to the back door. The lights flickered and finally stayed on. Lee continued sleeping. Julia got up and followed the dog. Chip just stayed where he was. If this was one of Lee’s hypothetical bad guys, it wouldn’t matter what he did. If not, then getting up and following Julia wouldn’t help any. He listened intently and heard a booming male voice talking to Julia. Sounded friendly enough. They talked for a while.

Finally, a tall, heavy-set man followed Julia into the living room. His hair was salt and pepper and Chip got the impression of someone about Admiral Nelson’s age. The man’s sapphire blue eyes studied him intently but there was no malice in them. Chip figured that Julia had given them the okay with this guy.

"Chip," Julia said. "This is Jim Mortensen. He came over from his place to check on us; to make sure we were all right."

They had told him this would happen, but he hadn’t quite believed them. Chip raised his eyebrows in amazement, impressed. "Commander Chip Morton," he said, slowly getting up and extending his hand. His joints still ached. Mortensen took his hand and grasped it in a tight grip. Chip sucked in a painful breath and the man let go immediately.

"Sorry, Commander, I guess you’d still be feeling the effects of being out in that storm all night. I should have realized; I’ve been out enough in it this afternoon."

"No need to apologize, sir. As you said, I’m feeling a little of the effects, but you also have a very healthy grip." Chip rubbed his fingers absently before sitting back down.

"I’ll get you both some hot cider," Julia said. "Don and the boys will be in shortly." She headed into the kitchen.

Thundering footsteps echoed on the staircase coming from the basement and the two younger teens blew into the room. They began to call out their greetings to the visitor, everything prefaced in ‘Brother Mortensen,’ but Julia from the kitchen, and Mortensen quickly quieted them. They nodded, waved and headed back down to the basement. Chip figured they were playing some kind of game.

"So what is the media saying about us now?" Chip asked warily. "Or have you had a chance to see any television?"

"I have, just before I headed up here, and there’s apparently been nothing about the whole affair since last night. Like someone put a lid squarely on the whole thing," Mortensen said. He shrugged. "News people aren’t getting anything from your boss, either, it would seem."

"Admiral Nelson?" Chip asked. Somehow, he wouldn’t be surprised if the Flying Sub wasn’t circling overhead right now; or at least at the nearest airport.

Mortensen nodded and looked at Lee sleeping soundly on the roll-a-way. "Your friend? Captain Lee Crane, I believe the news said last night. Same guy that got in the tangle overseas earlier this month?"

"Yes."

"The news reports said one of you might have been hurt. Obviously it was him," the man said.

"Yes, he was. I’m hoping an ambulance can get out here soon . . . if you could get word to them."

"Julia and Don told you about my short wave?" Mortensen asked. Chip nodded and the older man continued. "The snow is beginning to moderate some, although the wind has picked up. Still, plows should be getting out this way before dark," Mortensen replied. "I’ll get going soon and get word to the sheriff’s office. They’ll send out some help."

Julia handed both of them a mug with steaming cider. Chip let the heat soak into his fingers before even attempting to drink any. Mortensen was right; he still was feeling some effects from their night out in the snow. Hopefully that would alleviate soon.

"I’d invite you to our late lunch, Jim, but Captain Crane does need medical attention," Julia said as she turned to the kitchen. "I can fix you a to-go bag with some of our New Year’s Eve goodies, if you and your wife would like them."

"Thanks, I would appreciate that, if you think you can spare it. But you’re right. I do need to get back home and get the word out as quickly as I can," Mortensen said. He got up and nodded to Chip, who had started to get up, too. "No, don’t bother, Commander. You deserve to relax after coming over those mountains on foot and in a storm, to boot. I’ll make sure someone gets up here as soon as they can." He smiled softly and continued. "Apparently you Navy boys can navigate on land as well as at sea." Chip had to smile. "And Julia says she believes that you two aren’t what you were made out to be yesterday on the news. I trust her judgment. I hope everything goes all right for you both."

"Thank you, sir," Chip replied. "Oh, when you have contacted someone about Lee, could you also get in touch with my wife and let her know I’m okay?" he asked, handing the man his wife’s number in that Bear Lake cabin.

"Sure thing, Commander. I’d be happy to." The man breezed out as quickly as he had blown in. Morton sipped his cider and felt the heat slide down his throat.

The living room began to fill with smells of cooking bacon and frying hash browns. Chip felt his stomach grumbling and got up to see if there was anything he could do to help his hostess. She sent him packing with plates and utensils for the dining room table. To his relief, Lee continued to sleep. When Don and the boys came in they took over for him and he sat watching Lee as the family finished preparations for their breakfast/lunch. Soon he was being called to the table where scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and hash brown potatoes were steaming in large serving bowls and plates. At first the only sound was that of everyone enjoying his or her meal. But soon the family began talking, the kids answering questions about some activity that had been held before the storm, the depth of the snow, and then about what Chip and Lee did for a living.

"You must have some interesting adventures on board your submarine. I’m not sure I could work in an enclosed place like that," Don said.

Chip smiled. "Not a lot of people can. Of course, Seaview has a bit more room than a normal boat. I feel a sense of freedom when I’m in the Gray Lady, but I know that others have felt confined, even claustrophobic." At that the kids peppered him with numerous questions, only allowing him enough time to answer and eat before asking more questions.

 

Lee came blearily awake while everyone was still at the dining room table. Even Chip was sitting with the family. Everyone was eating with gusto and occasionally talking in low, happy voices. Lee smelled the bacon, egg and toast smells, and felt his stomach protesting, rumbling menacingly.

Chip noticed his wakefulness immediately. "How you feeling, pal?"

"Sore as . . . uh, sore," he muttered. "But hungry. Any chance…?" he began, but knew immediately that he wouldn’t get any. He’d had enough experience to know that. Still….

"I’m sorry, Lee. You know the routine," Chip replied in great sympathy. "After you get that bullet out…."

Sighing, Lee simply grumbled, "Yeah, I know. Jell-O, broth and Popsicles. And to think I left a perfectly good burger in the car." He tried to sit up, but the muscles were too painful, he felt too stiff, too weak to accomplish more than a gasping moan. He sank back on the pillow.

Chip was at his side before anyone else could get out of their chair. "Julia has some of that warm broth right now. I’ll also get you something to drink. You just stay put."

Crane nodded. He could see a little out the living room window and noticed that snow was still coming down . . . or was it just blowing around? It was hard to tell and he didn’t feel like trying.

 

*******

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

It was hard to know whether the snow was coming from the clouds or being recycled by the wind. Chip shivered as he gazed out the living room window, then looked over his shoulder at the injured man on the sofa bed. Lee had slept most of the afternoon and he seemed to be more feverish now. Mortensen had promised he would contact someone. Morton looked at his watch. It had been three hours. Then he looked back out the window. Even by standards of back home, this had been more than a snowstorm. It was a blizzard. This was a hunker-down-and-stay-inside type of storm. Bigger than the weatherman had said it would be, bigger than anything anyone could remember. No one could be expected to be out in this. And yet…. And yet, he continued to hope that someone could get through before dark.

Chip turned and walked back to the fireplace, sitting on the hearth and letting the heat bake his backside. Edgy, he walked over to the bed where Lee slept restlessly, murmuring in his sleep. It was nothing really intelligible, a word here or there, but that it indicated events in the past was a given. Occasionally, Chip could figure out the references. They’d been through a lot together; seen a lot; saved each other’s butts often. Now, however, there wasn’t a blessed thing he could do, except sit by the sidelines and worry.

"Quit pacing," came the muttered growl.

"Lee?"

"I’m okay," Lee responded, opening his eyes and glaring at him. There was a slight sheen of sweat, but still Crane shivered, another indication of fever.

"Uh, huh, and the sun is shining," Chip retorted, smiling to offset his anxiety.

Lee turned his head toward the large picture window. "Oh, yeah? Liar."

"So are you."

Lee sighed. "I’m tired of laying here." He tried to sit up, but just didn’t have enough strength. Chip helped him and soon Lee leaning back against the couch watching the same snow with which Chip had been so irritated.

"Reminds me of the ocean in a way," Lee murmured watching the wind push the snowflakes into cold, tiny projectiles.

"Oh?" Chip asked, seeing an analogy, but still wanting Lee’s version. Besides, it reassured him in a strange sort of way to hear his commander and friend talking lucidly.

"Can’t tame it, can’t control it. Free, unfettered . . . beautiful, powerful and . . . deadly…."

Chip studied Lee and didn’t see any particular morbidity in the comment, only observation built upon experience. "Yeah, it is." He sighed, then realized it would only aggravate Lee more. He was right.

"Why don’t you go out and pester the cows," the injured man growled. Almost immediately he shivered and pulled the covers closer around him. "Don’t worry, someone will get here when they can." He grimaced slightly as sharp pain shot across his shoulders and down his back. He forced himself to adopt a calm face when Chip looked anxious. "The storm won’t last forever."

"It’s already lasted about six hours longer than the weathermen said, according to Julia," returned Chip.

"Chip, quit worrying! I’ll be okay." Yawning, he continued, his voice dragging, "Need to do something for Don and Julia…. I’ll stay put. Won’t even try to go to the head."

Chip did feel restless. And he also felt the need to try to repay Don and Julia Farnsworth for their hospitality, too. However, he didn’t want to leave Lee alone. Maybe one of the kids could keep an eye on him. If they could be spared, that is. If not, then he’d only stay a little while. A very little while. It would give Lee the opportunity to get some more sleep, too. "Okay, for a bit. You want some more of the broth or some more water?"

Lee shook his head and gazed at the fire. Then he yawned again. "Be fine," he murmured.

"I’ll be back shortly," Chip assured his friend. Lee just nodded. When he walked through the kitchen, he saw the Farnsworth girl working at the stove.

She turned and smiled shyly at him. "I thought it would be nice to fix some herbal tea for you and Captain Crane," she said, her voice soft.

Chip remembered her name, Leesa. This was the first full sentence she had uttered to either of them. "That sounds great," he replied quickly, not totally sure that it was. He hadn’t had herbal tea before. Of course, it might just be the best thing for Lee. "Could you do me a favor and occasionally check on my friend? He’s probably back asleep by now." He paused, noticing the girl’s abject and . . . what was it, adoring gaze? "I’m going out to see if your dad could use a bit of help."

"Oh—all right," she said, glancing toward the living room. Although there was some disappointment on the girl’s face, she didn’t seem too horribly upset to be doing that chore.

"Thanks, Leesa." He pulled on his boots and then buttoned his coat. Chip drew on the gloves as he headed for the outer door. The wind almost jerked the door out of his hand. He was tempted to just go back in. Looking up, Chip saw that there were spots of dark blue between the banks of golden clouds. He glanced at his watch. It was five o’clock. No wonder it looked darker outside. Chip felt the frustration build again as he waded through the drifting snow to the barn. There would be no way for anyone to get out here at night, even if the wind stopped blowing the snow right this minute.

 

Lee woke up with the slightly prickly feeling of someone watching him. Someone was. It was the girl—he couldn’t remember her name. She was sitting in the chair he had vacated earlier with a mug in her hands and curiosity in her eyes.

Suddenly she seemed to realize that he was awake and gazing back at her. "Oh, um, I wasn’t sure if you might want some warm herbal tea, Captain Crane."

"I’ve never had any, but if it’s warm . . . yes, please," he replied, a bit of amusement feeling its way through the pain and lethargy.

She leaned closer and tentatively held out the mug. "Um, can you….?"

Lee smiled, nodded and reached for the mug. Then he realized that his hand was shaking. She noticed it, too, but had the good graces not to say anything. With a frown, he asked, "How full is it?"

She pulled it back and looked inside, then blushed. "It’s kinda full." She paused and then added, "I can hold it for you until it’s not too heavy for you." Still she hesitated.

"I promise I won’t bite." He leaned the scant amount forward that his abused body would allow and waited. She stared at him, blushed again and then held the mug to his lips. It was not too warm, it had a pleasant flavor and felt good going down. He drank about a third of the contents before he motioned to her and pulled back. "That’s not bad."

She smiled shyly. "It’s my favorite. Lemon mint." She paused again. "Do you want some more?"

Part of him wanted the whole thing, but the rest of him was urging him to take it easy, especially his stomach, which was gingerly processing what had recently come its way. He just shook his head. "A little later…." Now it was his turn to feel embarrassed. "I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name."

"Leesa, sir," she replied quickly.

"We’re not on the Seaview, you don’t have to ‘sir’ me."

"Oh, well, I thought since you are the captain…." she said hesitantly.

"But we’re not on my boat."

She nodded. "I was listening earlier today when Chip, uh, Commander Morton was telling about what you and he did . . . uh, usually."

Lee didn’t know if this girl thought he was going to bite her, die on her or . . . or what? "What else did Chip tell you?"

"Well, he was talking mostly to Mom and Dad, but I listened. It’s kinda warmer here when the weather is so cold outside, so I stayed by the fire, and . . . well, I listened."

"And?"

"Did you really kill that man in Sardine Pass?"

She appeared horrified by the prospect that he might have killed a man. "Leesa, I shot a man who was about to shoot me," he said as gently as he could. Lee took a deep breath and felt the muscles protesting in his back, but he ignored them. Where the hell could he begin with the whole affair? And how deep to go with it? How far back?

"But couldn’t you shoot him or something without killing him; I mean just in the leg or something?"

She had been watching too many action movies, he thought, stifling a yawn. "Leesa, understand, I don’t like to kill anyone. I don’t like to see anyone die for any reason." Of course, if he was honest, he would have to admit that he couldn’t help but feel a little bit of satisfaction that he had won the ultimate showdown with Hartsfield. "But those men would have killed Chip or me. A wound to the extremities wouldn’t have stopped him."

"One of my friend’s dad said that you shot him for no reason. Today Chip said he had a gun, just like you said. Why would the news have said…."

Lee tiredly leaned his head back on the couch, eyes on the ceiling and she stopped. After a moment, he simply said, "Guess other’s didn’t see what Chip and I saw."

"Oh. Are you okay?" There was a throat-clearing sound and she continued, "Sorry, I s’pose that was a stupid question."

Lee smiled at her. "No, it was a question a caring person would ask. I’m fine . . . under the circumstances."

"Does it hurt bad?" she asked and then looked embarrassed again.

"Yes, but tolerable."

She felt the mug. "Oh, it’s not very warm anymore."

"That’s okay. Let me have a bit more. ‘Course, if I have too much I might have to go to the…." This was a pre-teen girl, for crying out loud, he admonished himself. He had made the same mistake before. Then he coughed to cover his embarrassment and quickly regretted it. "The bathroom."

"Why do you call a bathroom a head? I mean in the Navy?" she asked, sitting closer to his bed. When he didn’t say anything, she added, "I heard you and Chip talking earlier."

Didn’t seem like scintillating conversation and he said as much.

She giggled. "That’s okay. I’m just curious. My friend’s dad was in the Army for a long time and she used it once. So I figured it’s a military thing."

"Hmm, well, it is, but mostly Navy," he began. "Anyway…. On old sailing ships, the bathroom was in the fore section or head of the ship, built over the bow."

She looked puzzled, then her eyes widened and she asked. "Like an outhouse?"

Lee wasn’t going to elaborate anymore on the subject then he had to. "Yes."

"Eyeew!" Leesa responded, holding her nose.

Lee smiled, then he chuckled softly. "That’s why I’m glad I work on a modern boat."

"What’s it like on Seaview?" Leesa asked, her curiosity peaking. "Can you tell me? It must be very exciting."

"You might say that," Lee said, stifling another yawn. "Chip might have to tell you, though," he added with a frown.

"That’s okay. Mom said you’d probably be really tired since you lost a lot of blood and you had been out in the cold so much."

Lee nodded, wishing ironically that he was in sickbay with Doc fussing over him. At least he’d be up and around more quickly….

 

=====================

 

Chip helped the youngest boy, Tommy, pitch hay for the cows that had been milked already. The odor of cow dung reminded him of bilge, only worse. The hay offset it, though and they were soon done. Julia had already gone in to start dinner, so he didn’t worry as much about Lee as he had before. Still, it would have been good if someone had gotten through before dark. He could see that the sun had set. When he and Tommy finished and Chip had straightened up, easing his sore back muscles, they walked out of the barn. Butch followed, floundering through deep snow that was no longer being whipped about by the wind. Chip looked up and saw some stars winking at him. He and the boy tramped through the snow and up the stairs, Chip almost barking his shin on the first step that was hidden by snow.

Then he saw something in front of him. No, it was a reflection in the glass of the door. Chip looked over his shoulder and felt his jaw drop. It was a flashing blue light and it was coming slowly, but it was coming his way. He scrambled up the steps and into the house, stamping the snow off his boots, and then he bounded through the kitchen. "Someone’s coming," he called to Julia and Leesa as he blew through.

"I knew someone would," she responded, but Chip was already in the living room.

Lee was asleep, but roused when Chip dashed in. "Mmm?"

"Someone’s coming," he repeated.

"Good," Lee murmured groggily. "Don’t forget to pick up your laundry."

Chip chuckled at the reference to their academy days. "No, help’s coming, Lee. Police, paramedics—someone. Not on a snowmobile, either."

Lee came more fully awake. "’Bout time. Ready to get to a hospital…."

Chip was astonished, but as much as Lee sometimes seemed to try to avoid sickbays and hospitals, he hated being down for the count even more.

"….and get well enough to be allowed decent food. Been hell being here and smelling Julia’s good cooking."

"I can imagine," Chip concurred.

Then Lee’s eyes darkened. "Watch them, Chip. We gotta make sure they’re on the up and up."

Chip nodded solemnly.

A few minutes later, an all-terrain vehicle had pulled up on the road that ran between the barn and the back door and stopped. Shortly after that, two policemen and a doctor were walking through the kitchen and into the living room. The cop in front studied him, but didn’t pull his gun or make any demands. He and his partner simply followed the doctor and stood waiting by the couch/bed. They were all a bit astonished when Chip asked for identification, but they complied. Julia recognized one of policemen as well and that satisfied Chip and Lee.

The doctor gazed at Chip for a brief moment. "Can I assume that you are in pretty good shape?"

Chip raised an eyebrow. Not what he expected from a medical professional, but whatever. "Yes. Feet and hands were sore and stiff for a while, but no problem now. It’s Lee who…."

"Yes, I can see that, but I needed to ask." He turned his attention to Lee, kneeling by the bed.

"Glad you could make it, Doc," Lee said slowly.

"That was the easy part," the doctor replied. "It’s getting you out of here that’s going to be fun."

"Commander Morton, we’d like to ask you a few questions," one of the policemen asked. Chip reluctantly turned away from Lee and the doctor and followed the cops into the dining room.

 

 

******

 

 

Chapter 11

 

The first part of the ride to Logan seemed interminable, because where the main road had been scraped, snow had blown back over it. Still, Chip was impressed with how quickly a storm of this magnitude had been tackled. He was also amazed at how clear it was once they reached Hyrum, a place on his map that he knew was halfway between the county seat of Logan, and the little town of Paradise. Lee had been asleep almost from the time they had gotten in the large all terrain vehicle, his head against Chip’s shoulder. It had been a bit crowded, but despite Chip offering to stay behind, the doctor had refused, insisting that he might have injuries not apparent at the moment. The policemen had not been too keen on his idea, either. So he, Lee and Dr. Maxwell, who thankfully was not a large man, occupied the back seat.

Chip looked down at his left wrist, encircled in a steel handcuff, the other around Lee’s right wrist and frowned. The officer in charge, Sgt. John Olsen, had indicated that there was enough evidence to tell them that something was funny about the whole thing, but until the detectives could straighten everything out, there was procedure to follow. At least they would be warm, and no one would be shooting at them. Most important, Lee would get the care he needed so badly.

They drove up to the hospital emergency entrance and the cuffs were taken off. Lee woke up enough to protest the doctor’s orders for him to be placed on a gurney. The argument was only half-hearted, and soon both of them were inside the hospital. Chip sat next to one of the cops in the waiting room. There was a woman and man with a sick toddler, an older woman who appeared feverish, resting her head against her husband’s shoulder. A middle-aged man sat by himself, cradling his arm and leaning over in pain. They would all go in before he would. Lee, having a gunshot wound, superceded every one of them. At the moment, everyone not sick stared at him for a moment and then became obvious in their attempts not to look obvious in their study of he and his escort. Chip almost laughed, it was so ludicrous.

As soon as he knew that Lee was being taken care of by the doctors, he turned to his ‘guard.’ "I need to call my wife. She’s probably sick with worry."

The policeman, the junior partner named Thompson, who was about his age, hair light and eyes like Lee’s, studied him for a moment and then nodded. "You can reverse the charges, I suppose." They got up and walked over to a pay phone hanging near the outer entrance. The cop stood between him and the doorway.

Chip turned to him again. "I, uh, had all my change in my backpack and my cash in my wallet." He paused a couple of seconds to let the statement sink in. "You and your partner have both locked away in your vehicle. I can charge it to the Institute, but I need a dime for the initial call."

"Sure thing, Commander. I think I can spare a dime for a phone call to let your wife know you’re going to be late tonight," Thompson said with a sudden smile.

It was like ice had been broken for the other man. Chip thanked him and put the coin in the phone. After talking with the operator and getting all the wherewithal’s taken care of, he nervously heard the phone ring on the other end. It was picked up just at the second ring.

"Hello?" he heard the anxious voice on the other end.

"Nikki, it’s me," he began. That was as far as he got.

"Chip!! Oh, thank God, it’s you! How are you? Are you all right? Where are you?"

He could hear the tears in her voice and the quavering relief there, too. Suddenly feeling the prickling of tears in the corners of his eyes along with the lump that had formed in his throat upon hearing her voice, he blinked several times to get control of himself. He did but found the other side of the pendulum, a sudden euphoria to be almost as hard to control. Finally, "Darling, I can answer all of your questions if you pause and take a breath." Then he sighed. "You don’t know how wonderful it is hearing your voice, Nikki."

"I didn’t think I would ever hear you again, Chip," she said and he heard the catch in her throat. "Oh, Chip," she finally sighed. "You don’t spare me even on dry land."

He paused at her last statement and then he began to chuckle. She laughed with him.

"I love you so much," he said and realized that she had said the same thing at the same time. They laughed again.

Finally when he paused for breath, Nikki said, "Well?"

"Well, what?" he asked, puzzled.

"You said you were going to answer my questions." Before he could say anything else, she added, "I am assuming that since you are talking to me, you are not the one who was shot." There was relief in her voice alongside the worry. "How is Lee?"

"He’ll be okay. We’re at the Logan Hospital. He’s being looked at right now." He took in a deep breath. "Are you still at Bear Lake?"

The relief and joy flooded her voice. "Yes, but it might as well be the other side of the moon. It was too late to come through by the time I heard what had happened. And the canyon is still impassable to normal traffic."

"My darling Nikki, since when have you been normal?" he asked, a grin on his face.

She giggled softly and said, "You know what I mean!"

"I know."

"As soon as the plows clear it, we’ll be up there."

"Can’t wait to see you. It seems like an eternity in the mountains." Then a thought struck him. "Have you contacted the admiral lately?"

"Yes, why?"

"I bet he’s trying to get out here in the Flying Sub."

"Yes, but he was delayed at the Salt Lake Airport because of the winds."

"The winds aren’t blowing here. Have him go to Bear Lake when he can and then you two can fly into the local airport. I was told there was one that could accommodate a small jet. And assure him that Lee and I are all right."

"I’ll do that, darling." She paused. "I miss you so much."

"Love you…." Chip let his voice trail off, wishing she were here right now.

"I love you, too. I’ll get there as soon as I can."

"I guess you’ll have to get me through the local police department."

"I’ll find you, Chip. Don’t worry."

He laughed softly. "I’m not."

"I’ll see you as soon as I can."

"Okay," he said, not knowing what else to say except, "I love you," again. He slowly hung up the phone.

"Glad you got a hold of her," Thompson said.

"Me, too," Chip murmured as they returned to their seats to wait.

 

Lee awoke to smells that told him where he was, and the sound of voices that were very familiar to him. Chip was talking to the admiral, discussing something—he couldn’t tell what it was. His entire left side felt disconnected from the rest of him. There was some sense of dull discomfort but it seemed swathed or muted. Bringing his mind into increased awareness felt more like he was putting a jigsaw puzzle together than remembering the how’s and why’s of his presence in a hospital. It was too hard and Lee chose instead to simply listen, while he let his body and mind come together of their own accord.

"I sincerely hope that since the holidays are officially over, everyone will coordinate and get Lee and I off the hook," Chip grumbled.

"So do I," Nikki agreed. "I would really like some private time with you without the police escort."

"With ONI providing their input and other agencies working on this, it’s not going to be long." That was the admiral.

"Good," Lee mumbled. The room went silent for several seconds. Cautiously, Lee opened his eyes and blinked to get everyone in focus. The far wall was bathed in bright light, which he suspected was coming through the window behind him. Sun…. Sudden realization flooded through him and he remembered the shoot-out with Hartsfield, the trip over the mountains, the time at the farm. He didn’t remember how he had arrived here, though, even though he tried to put a memory back in for that one. It was not that important. Apparently some time had passed for Nikki and the admiral to get here. "How long…?"

"It’s the afternoon of January second. Sunday," Nelson said quickly, knowing what Lee was after. "You’ve been a bit out of it for most of the day, lad, which didn’t seem to unduly alarm your surgeon or the nurses, but sure worried the hell out of me."

"The last thing I remember was night falling . . . at the farm."

"Don’t remember the local police showing up with the doctor?" Chip asked.

Lee frowned and then shook his head. "Leesa—she’s the last I remember. I was talking to her."

"Well, as soon as we got here, they took you into surgery and got that bullet out." At Lee’s questioning look, Chip continued. "Doctor says you should have a full recovery with some therapy after you heal."

Lee nodded and then dozed off. When he woke again, the room was only lit with the lights over the bed and sink and there was a food tray on the little table. Chip and Nikki were gone and the admiral was dozing in a chair. The muzziness seemed to be going away and his stomach was telling him of its displeasure at being empty. He studied the two little bowls on the tray and frowned in distaste. Jell-o was in the uncovered one and the other one held broth, no doubt. Bullion deluxe, tastes-like-anything-including-old- shoe-leather flavor. And yellow Jell-o. That was a switch, he thought with wry humor. Usually it was green. He tried to reach for the bowl, but the tray was out of reach. Figured….

His stomach clamored even louder but he wasn’t going to wake the admiral. With a sigh, Lee gazed around the room and saw a clock. Six o’clock. What had Chip said? He figured it must be the third of January. Now that he knew what time it was, Lee definitely wasn’t going to disturb Admiral Nelson. He continued to look around as much as his sore back would allow. The admiral was in one of those uncomfortable as hell, vinyl visitor’s chairs, so if he was asleep, he had to be extremely tired.

Lee yawned and felt the stirring of disgust. Three days ago, he had energy to burn. He closed his eyes and dozed. Almost immediately, it seemed, he heard the door open and someone quietly slip in. His eyes snapped open immediately and he saw a young, sandy-haired nurse approach his bedside.

"How are you feeling this morning?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper, presumably in deference to the admiral, not him.

"Is it the third?"

She cocked an eyebrow and then smiled. "Yes, Monday morning."

There was a rustling in the chair and then, "How are you doing, lad?"

"Fine," was the quick response. "Sorry I woke you up, sir."

"Needed to get up and stretch," Nelson responded, doing just that.

"So do I," Lee mumbled, feeling the hardness of the bed even through the muted sensations his body was sending him at the moment.

"I’m glad you feel that way, Captain, because the doctor wants you up and about as soon as possible," the nurse told him.

"Was thinking of getting up and out," Lee elaborated, continuing to watch the nurse as she checked all the things that nurses check.

She didn’t say anything for a moment while she took his blood pressure, then, "That, too, might be arranged if you do well today."

Lee blinked in surprise, not having expected that response. He quickly recovered though, his mind as well as his body feeling more like itself. "If for no other reason than to get something decent to eat," he growled.

She laughed and Lee heard the admiral chuckle. He suddenly saw Chip’s face from behind the nurse’s back and Nikki right next to him.

"What’s the matter, Lee, missing that burger you had before all this began?"

"Darned straight I am and you mean the one that I only had half of," Lee grumbled.

The nurse was chuckling. "We’ll see what we can do for you for dinner, Captain…."

"Lee."

"Lee, but you have to eat this first," she said, pushing the tray within his reach. "I will be back later this morning to check your dressing and give you a bath." She smiled reassuringly at his sudden discomfiture before leaving.

Lee ate the jell-o and eyeballed the broth before deciding, in his increasing awareness, that he really was hungry enough to eat shoe leather in whatever form. Within a short while he had finished the soup and while his stomach told him it was satisfied, past experience dictated that would not last. He looked at Chip. "You get hassled about the shooting?" he asked.

Chip shook his head. "They asked questions and a judge allowed a quick bail for both of us. Hundred dollars a piece." Lee’s face must have mirrored his surprise. "With our background and the admiral’s good word, it was pretty quick. Besides, it was Sunday and the judge didn’t want to miss his church meeting, I was told. Signed the papers and my police escort disappeared, presumably to his meeting," Chip explained with a grin.

"I suspect that I’ll get visitors before the day is over," Lee mused.

"I suspect you will, Lee," the Admiral confirmed. "Because I told them that we were heading for Santa Barbara as soon as you were ready to travel, presumably when you’re released from the hospital." He walked to the window, looked out at the brightness of light reflected off the snow and then returned to Lee’s bedside. "Of course, I had the Institute and ONI provide background information so there shouldn’t be too many questions you have to answer."

"And I turned over my camera to the police the night we arrived here."

"Camera?" Lee asked.

Chip nodded. "I had the camera around my neck and when Hartsfield got out of the car, I just snapped off a couple of shots. Didn’t even aim. Just hoped for the best. I’ve been told that one of them showed Hartsfield pulling the pistol just before you nailed him. Self-defense."

Crane took all that in and then nodded. "Good." Lee found the bed controls and raised the head up higher to allow him to sit up. The bandage pulled and his shoulder smarted, but he ignored the discomfort.

Events pretty much transpired as they had been predicted. Lee was interviewed by various police investigators, he walked the corridors, the doctor and nurses came and went and the Farnsworth’s and Chip’s other local in-laws visited him in the afternoon.

As evening approached, Lee felt tiredness creep over his body. Already, he had been promised that he would be released from the hospital in the morning and he looked forward to it—even if it was to temporary quarters in a local motel room. That had been part of the release ‘deal.’ The cops wanted to have them around for follow-up questions and the doctor would not release him from his care until later in the week, depending on his condition. Lee smiled. In so many words, he had to continue to be a good boy.

It wouldn’t be the first time he and the admiral had shared a room. He continued to stare out of the window overlooking one of the city’s main thoroughfares. It amazed him that in a couple of days, despite the continuing low temperatures, traffic was moving as though there had been no storm. He turned away from the window and the view of sunset gold, snow-capped mountains and walked the short distance to his bed, where he gingerly slid back in, keeping the top of his hospital garb from getting tangled up as he maneuvered. At least he wasn’t attached to IV’s anymore. And he had been given a pair of hospital scrub bottoms.

He was alone for the moment and didn’t mind. Nikki and Chip were out having dinner somewhere. Lee hadn’t a clue where the admiral had gone; maybe to check on the Flying Sub. It had caused quite a stir when he had flown in on Sunday, Lee had been told. Bright yellow saucer lands in valley in northern Utah. Lee grinned. From criminals to celebrities in just four days. It had been a harrowing four days, but finally the conclusion was slipping toward some degree of normalcy.

It was time for the news, but he wasn’t in the mood. Right now, he was mainly in the mood for a good dinner. It had been promised. He had been a good boy, so to speak. He also knew that the trays were being brought around; he had heard one of the large carts trundling by. Of course, that didn’t mean it would be a ‘good’ dinner. Lunch had been more than broth and Jell-O, but not much more.

"Knock, knock!" came Chip’s cheery voice. Nikki was right behind him. And preceding them was a smell that almost had the same effect on him as Pavlov’s bell had on the scientist’s dogs.

"What? Where have you been?" he demanded. "I can’t believe that you…." He stopped in mid-sentence, shocked when his executive officer pulled out of a bag, in rapid succession, the largest burger he had ever seen, a large package of French fries and onion rings. Finally, Nikki sat a frosted mug of root beer on his tray. They each had a bag of their own. The admiral breezed in right behind them, his own bag in his hands.

Nikki unwrapped the monster burger. "They call it the Big Blue," she informed him.

"Blue? Why?" he asked warily, thoughts of blue cheese dressing ruining this monster running through his mind.

"Named after the local university. One of the school colors is blue. I was told this little main street corner A & W is even better than the place over the mountain. You get to find out," Chip explained, while unwrapping the burger. "So quit grousing and test the claim."*

Lee did and when he could only get through half of his huge cheeseburger and not quite a third of his fries and onion rings, he reluctantly placed the uneaten items into the Styrofoam container. With a sorrowful sigh, he closed the lid. "They’re right." He gave Chip a hard stare. "And this burger had better be available for later."

"I will guard it with my life, Skipper, until you are ready for the rest," Chip promised in mock solemnity, his right hand raised.

"You better," Lee growled, settling back with a contented sigh. His back hurt, he was still feeling lethargy from the meds, and he definitely wanted to be back home, but that was coming, too. He thought of the events in the canyon; how Hartsfield had allowed his anger to fester and grow; had allowed it to consume him.

Surprisingly, two plus years ago Lee had wanted to devote his all of his time and energy tracking down the former agent. Instead, he had turned his energies to what he really enjoyed—no—loved the most, working on the Gray Lady with those he cared for the most. And the anger had tempered into the hurt of loss. Even that loss had tempered somewhat into memories of happy times. Hartsfield had tried to destroy him, may have come close, but in the end, he had failed. No, soon Lee would be back on Seaview. Soon he would feel the soft, caressing motion of the ocean flowing around him. It gave him a great deal of satisfaction thinking about that future. He lay back and closed his eyes, content.

*The ‘Big Blue’ really exists and is found in Logan, Utah at a little corner A & W drive-in. IMHO it is better than Maddox burgers. That is another place that really exists, just south of Brigham City. Both are considered local ‘landmarks’. BTW Sardine Pass is now a four-lane highway. Mantua also exists and is where my hubby and I were succored last year when our poor car developed brake problems.

 

 

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