Loloa Fononga:
The Long Journey

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

Confronting Hartsfield—he knew that was a prerequisite to Lee’s full “recovery” but it was the how that was tricky.   "I 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. 

“Chip?”

“Want me to take over?” the exec asked. 

Lee blinked in surprise and then laughed.  “Am I that transparent?”

Morton shrugged.  “Right now you are.  Why don’t you get a few hours sleep and then you can change and get ready for battle.”

“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.

“No problem.  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 problem. 

“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. 

“Yes.”

“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 bolt.”

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 involved.

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 upstairs.” 

“I’ll call back-up, sir,” the guard responded. 

“No!  I 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 backup.”

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!”

Chip!  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 courage.

“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 struggle. 

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 double agent. 

“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!”       

 

 

 

Chapter 11
Chapter 1
Voyage to the bottom of the Sea Contents
Main Page