The Long Journey
Confronting Hartsfield—he knew that was a
prerequisite to Lee’s full “recovery” but it was the how that was
know," Chip said softly at Lee’s pronouncement. "And I want
you to take him out. He needs
to pay for what he's done, but it needs to be done legally.”
They flew on in silence for almost an hour.
Lee checked the clock. Since
the admiral had temporarily dismantled the new propulsion unit until he
worked out the bugs, Lee knew there would be more fly time.
He figured it would be about six hours.
Maybe an hour before the admiral called.
He was tired and that wasn’t good if he was going to confront the
man responsible for his mother’s death—a man likely to be very
dangerous when cornered.
“Want me to take over?” the exec asked.
Lee blinked in surprise and then laughed.
“Am I that transparent?”
“Right now you are. Why
don’t you get a few hours sleep and then you can change and get ready
“No changing course, right?”
Shaking his head, Chip also answered.
“No, Lee. Although
I’m not sure I totally go along with this spur of the moment operation,
I certainly understand. And
maybe a frontal attack is the best way to take care of this guy.”
“Thanks, Chip,” Lee said as he switched the
controls over to his XO.
You want me to contact the admiral?”
“I will, then I’ll get the twenty winks.”
The early afternoon sun shone into their faces as
they banked the Flying Sub to land at a small airport near Washington,
D.C. Strange looks met them
as they taxied the saucer into a hanger and disembarked.
Chip rented a car and they drove to Suitland, Maryland via the
freeway. It was a short drive
made longer by traffic.
“Good thing it isn’t rush hour,” growled
Lee, as he watched Chip negotiate the traffic.
He would have preferred to drive himself, knowing the way to ONI
headquarters only too well, but as he had left his wallet and everything
else back on Hikeru…. His
thoughts took a swift delineation.
He left his ID back on Hikeru.
Was that something subconscious?
With a mental shake, Lee brought himself back to the present
“Luckily we’ll get there before quitting
time,” Chip returned with a tight smile.
He had called from a pay phone a short while ago, asking for
Hartsfield, pretending he was some junior enlisted man calling for a big
shot. He had been told that their quarry was in conference.
“Your approach?” Chip asked, feeling his
nerves starting to bunch. Calm
down, he kept telling himself. We
aren’t even there yet.
There was a long pause.
Then, “Direct,” Lee said simply.
“Admiral Johnson has an office with a side door, as well as a
side office, but his exec’s don’t.
When not serving as his OOD, they have small offices nearby. Some of the juniors don’t even have four walls.”
“I would assume Hartsfield is not junior.”
“No, he’s gotten pretty high up. I understand why now,” Lee said grimly.
“Think Johnson’s a part of this?”
“No, but Hartsfield’s efficient, he’s had
the right backing and seems to have worked his way into Admiral
Johnson’s hip pocket.”
“We have to find out who the officer of the day
is, then,” Chip contributed. “If
it’s Hartsfield then he’ll be closer to Johnson.”
“That’s your department.
You sweet-talk the receptionist and I’ll follow a couple of
minutes later. Thumbs up
behind your back if Hartsfield is the OOD. Either way, I’ll go up like I
would any other time I’ve been summoned by ONI.
Come pretty quickly after. I’ll
stay as close to the elevator as I can in case Hartsfield decides to
Morton thought a minute.
“I don’t like it, Lee,” he said with a frown. “He has all the advantages.”
“Except for surprise.
We can’t do anything else. We
can’t count on anyone but ourselves. Even the admiral can’t do
anything this time, because unless he’s received more intelligence, we
don’t know who else might be involved with Hartsfield.”
“So we just hope simplicity does the trick.”
Crane nodded as Chip pulled into the Federal
building’s public parking lot and parked in an empty visitor’s space.
Chip walked in and strode confidently toward a
petite, blonde-haired young woman sitting at a large horseshoe shaped
desk. She was on the phone
but smiled when Chip walked up to her.
Lee peered through the glass door and couldn’t help but smile
too. Chip was leaning against the desk and as she turned her
attention to him, he leaned forward, talking in that smooth, mellow voice
that drove his dates wild. Soon
it appeared that they were in deep conversation.
Lee walked in as unobtrusively as possible, hoping
that she wouldn’t notice him at all.
But he remembered her from his ONI days and she glanced up and
recognized him almost immediately. He
smiled and nodded to her and just continued walking.
He hoped that Chip was still distracting her enough to delay her
call upstairs. From behind
Chip’s back, Lee saw a thumb’s up.
Hartsfield was the OOD. He
would be close to Johnson. There
were pros and cons both ways, but Crane did some quick figuring as he
continued toward the elevator.
He walked around the corner and then hesitated.
Chip would be taking the elevator and if he did, it would delay it
coming back down. He had
heard scuttlebutt that ONI had requested another elevator to be built, but
so far no luck, which was lucky for him, he thought sardonically.
With only slight thought, Lee headed up the stairs.
It was the logical choice if Hartsfield had been alerted.
He just wish he could have told Chip of the change of plans.
The soles of his shoes tapped loudly on the metal
stairs and Lee paused to take them off.
The socks came off as well. He
hadn’t worn shoes but little while on Hikeru and the soles of his feet
had toughened a great deal. Besides
he would now make little or no noise.
He cautiously started up the five flights to ONI’s main offices.
Two and a half flights up, Crane heard a door close and voices.
He peered up the stairwell, but could see nothing.
It was hard to tell what the voices were saying, only that they
belonged to two men and were very familiar.
The men came closer even as Lee continued his
stealthy climb. It was
Hartsfield and Admiral Johnson! Lee
didn’t doubt that Hartsfield had a weapon and that he’d use it if
confronted. He felt the small
mini-tape player in his pocket and smiled.
The two men were less than two stories from him.
Quietly Crane removed the player and set it on a step near the
inner railing. He turned the
volume up high and pushed the play button.
Marcum’s and Hartsfield’s voices began to reverberate up the
stairwell. There was a
muttered oath from Hartsfield and a command of silence from Johnson.
That confirmed to Lee that his summations about Johnson were
correct. The man was not
Lee left the tape running and took the steps
silently, but two at a time. He
heard the sound of someone charging down toward him.
Good, anger would cloud Hartsfield’s judgment and leave Johnson
clear, he thought. But
Hartsfield was still very dangerous.
Lee didn’t have a weapon, while he was positive that his enemy
did. The tape played on, the
sound receding only slightly as he padded up the stairs.
Suddenly Lee saw Hartsfield careening around the bend of the stairwell. As he had suspected, his enemy was armed with a pistol. As soon as he caught sight of Lee, he fired.
Barely ducking back behind the stairs, Lee still
felt the burn of the bullet across his upper arm.
“Admiral, get back upstairs!” he shouted, hoping Johnson would
hear his plea. “Call
back-up!” He ducked low and
ran back the way he came, passing the incriminating tape that had now
finished and was humming loudly. If
Hartsfield stopped to deal with it, all the better.
Admiral Nelson still had the original.
If not, well, Lee mentally shrugged; he would still deal with
Hartsfield. With a feral
smile, Lee thought that might not be such a bad idea.
He got to the lobby door and hesitated.
No, there would be no confrontation in the lobby.
He listened and heard the sound of footsteps above him.
“You kind of thought you had covered all your bases didn’t you,
Hartsfield?” Lee taunted
There was another muffled curse and Lee continued
down the stairs to the executive garage in the lower level. He ducked as a bullet zinged past his head.
Had to be more careful, he thought.
Reaching the door, he jerked it open and almost ran into a security
guard. The man had a gun
trained on him. “Who are
you?” the guard thundered. Even
as he finished speaking, the man’s eyes registered recognition and his
gun lowered slightly.
“Commander Lee Crane,” Lee said shortly and
before the guard could put up a defense or even say anything, his fist had
connected with the man’s stomach. As
the guard doubled over, Lee karate chopped him on the back of his neck,
laying him cold. He pulled
him away from the door and reached for the gun.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a cold
voice told him.
Damn! Lee thought, straightening up.
He glimpsed another guard close to the outer entrance to the
parking garage. Then he heard
the door behind him opening. Lee
grabbed the gun and leaped for the shadow of a car. Two guns fired almost at once and Crane could feel the
passage of one of the bullets past his head.
“He’s dangerous, Carr,” Hartsfield called
out. “He tried to kill me
“I’ll call back-up, sir,” the guard
can deal with him. You just
make sure he doesn’t get away.”
Lee chanced a look and saw Hartsfield totally
open. He smiled and sighted.
“Throw the gun away, Hartsfield,” he ordered.
“And have you shoot me, Crane?”
Lee chanced a glance at the other guard, Carr and
saw a flickering of puzzlement on the man’s face.
“You have no idea, Commander, just how much I would like to do
that, but unlike you, I have scruples.”
Lee felt his fingers squeeze the trigger slightly and he forced
himself to relax. “Just
what you did to my family would be enough to deserve a bullet.”
He called out to the guard, “Carr, I think you should call that
Hartsfield, fired at him and leaped toward his car
door and stuck a key in it, struggling to unlock the door. Lee fired toward Hartsfield’s lower extremities, but
missed. With a growl of
frustration, he started after the double agent, but the sharp bark of his
enemy’s pistol kept Lee at bay. Instead
of continuing to get in his car, Hartsfield fired several shots at him,
causing Crane to have to duck out of the way.
His enemy slipped back inside the stairwell.
Crane cursed again, seeing Hartsfield disappear
behind the door. He had
almost killed Mendon for what he had done to him, and he would dearly love
to do the same to Hartsfield. Lee
had gambled on capturing him, doing it legal as Chip had admonished,
seeing the double agent in a max security prison, letting him suffer long
for what he had done to his family. Now,
the agent was back inside able to mingle and get away.
Throwing stealth aside, Lee dashed along the wall
toward the door. When he
tried it, the captain found it to be locked. He turned toward Carr, hoping
he could talk him into giving him the key, but the man had disappeared. Probably trying to sneak up on him or he had taken off to get
more help. Growling in
frustration, Lee turned toward the exit gate, thinking maybe that
Hartsfield would go out the front door of the building.
Then he heard shooting on the other side, shouting, and more
shooting. A muffled scream
told Lee that someone was returning this way.
At the least, he’d be able to get through the door.
If it was Hartsfield, then he would have him.
Jumping to one side, gathering late afternoon shadows around him,
Lee saw Hartsfield coming backward through the door, a young Navy ensign,
a woman, held tightly to his chest. Lee
aimed, but Hartsfield was faster, knowing that he was probably still in
the garage. He swung the girl
around, using her as a shield and fired at his slight movement.
Hartsfield was good; Lee had to reluctantly concede.
The bullet tore a chunk of concrete from the wall by his head, even
as he dashed for the relative safety of another car.
“Crane, if you try anything, I’ll kill her,
just like I killed your friend!”
Anger fired his heart. One
of those shots he had heard. “Let
her go, Hartsfield. Back-up
is on the way and you can’t go anywhere.”
“Let me see your hands, Captain,” Hartsfield
said. The mouth of the gun
barrel rested on the young woman’s temple.
She appeared terrified, but still shook her head slightly.
Crane didn’t recognize her, but he couldn’t help but admire her
“And have you kill me as you cold-bloodedly
killed my mother?” he retorted, but still he stood up, using a support
pillar for partial protection.
Hartsfield fired and another blast of pulverized
concrete slapped his face. “I’m
getting away, Crane. Doesn’t
that eat at you?”
“Sure, Hartsfield, but I think you’ll like the
company of your real boss a lot less than you’d like mine with this
botched assignment. And you
haven’t gotten away yet.” He
ventured a quick look from behind the pillar and saw Hartsfield fumbling
with his keys even as he struggled with the girl.
She had begun fighting him. Again,
Lee was impressed with her courage under fire.
As his enemy stuck the right key into the keyhold, the ensign
elbowed him, kicked out and ran as Hartsfield yelped in pain.
Lee shot even as Hartsfield grabbed at her.
The bullet grazed Hartsfield’s side, then struck the car window,
shattering it, but still the double agent got two shots off, first at Lee
and then at his escaping prisoner. The scream told Lee that the second shot had hit its mark and
he dashed from behind the pillar toward his quarry. There was another shot, but it seemed wild.
Still, he ducked and ran closer to the ground.
Hartsfield was in his car and putting the key into
the ignition. Shoving the gun
into his belt, Lee dove for the man, grabbing him by the wrists. Snarling curses, Hartsfield struggled with him, gun still in
one hand, muzzle pointing toward the ceiling.
“You have a choice, Crane,” Hartsfield spat out.
“One choice, Hartsfield,” Lee said through
clenched teeth. “To testify
at your trial.”
“And in the meantime, you let that woman bleed
to death at your feet,” Hartsfield spat out even as they continued to
Lee didn’t even turn to look, he had caught a
glimpse of the woman when he had grabbed Hartsfield and knew the man was
right. Where the hell is
Carr? he thought. He
heard the soft moans of pain even over the sounds of his struggle with the
“You want that on your conscience, Crane?”
No, Lee realized, he didn’t, but there was also
such a thing as self-preservation. He
took a chance and released one hand, trying to grab Hartsfield’s gun.
The enemy agent managed to turn the key and start his car.
“Since you don’t have one, what’s to stop you from shooting
me and her if I release you.” Stall,
Crane, stall. Carr’s got to
be getting help! Hartsfield
seemed to have developed superhuman strength, Lee thought even as he tried
again to reach his enemy’s gun.
The agent lashed out with his free hand and belted
Crane under one ear. That
was enough to loosen Lee’s grip so that Hartsfield jerked away. “Nothing except my need to escape!” he said as he popped
his emergency brake and shoved the car into gear.
Lee grabbed his pistol from his belt even as his
enemy reached his gun out of the window and aimed.
He and Hartsfield fired at the same time and both bullets found a
target. Lee felt a burning
pain in his left thigh, while Hartsfield dropped his gun from numbed
fingers. One handed, he gunned the car in reverse and shot back from
the parking stall.
Even as he turned to the injured woman, Lee shouted, his frustration rising to almost choke him, “I will bring you and your bosses down, Hartsfield! You can’t hide!”
|Voyage to the bottom of the Sea Contents|