Visions of the Night
Chip paddled with his good leg, but mostly used his arms to forge through the dark waters. Soon he broke the surface and tread water, listening and watching. There was little to see. In the distance he heard the noise of machines and a muffled explosion. There seemed to be nothing close by. Morton swam slowly toward the shore, crawling above the water line when he reached dry land. Immediately he pulled off the air tank, shivering violently. Pain shot through his leg, but he ignored it. Jerking off the mask, Chip pulled himself further onto dry land, muttering savagely about the mud and other unknowns at the waterís edge.
Then he heard a noise. It was soft and muted, but he knew he had heard it. Chip listened harder, holding his breath and sitting stock still. A soft growling and then the familiar voice of the Bigfoot. "Rrarkgrrr!" he hissed.
There was more growling about six feet behind her but Rrarkgrrr ignored it. Instead she knelt down in front of him and gently laid a limp form on the ground.
To Chipís intense relief; he realized it was Lee. Then his anxiety rose again. The skipper was so still. He leaned forward and began checking for vital signs.
Rrarkgrrr touched him on the arm and whuffed quietly. Chip glanced up and watched as she made motions with her hands and fingers. A low growling rumbled from behind her again and Chip knew that Marrgrarr was only barely restraining his urge to fight or, more likely, to flee, due to his mate. The male Bigfootís voice was irritable and impatient.
"Thank you, Marrgrarr and Rrarkgrrr for bringing Lee back with you. I hope you can find some safety and peace wherever you go," Chip said solemnly, laying his hand on the Bigfoot femaleís arm.
She signed some more and Chip understood that she had been unable to leave the obviously injured human despite her mateís desire to get away from the humans who had captured him. She had brought Lee to the lake because she had felt his presence. Now she had to leave.
"You might want to stay close on this land. The human who lives here is pretty sure about your existence and is sympathetic."
An angry growl interrupted him and Rrarkgrrr shook her head.
"Hear me out," Chip said, desperate to check out Lee, but at the same time, concerned about the pair in front of him. "The man here wonít hurt you. He hates Sanders and would do anything to get rid of him and his people. He doesnít ask questions and would protect both of you." Chip paused and saw that the Bigfoot couple was watching him closely now. "Why do you think you felt somewhat secure coming here? It wasnít just the lake or me."
Rrarkgrrr slowly nodded.
"Just hide in the caves around here. Johnson will leave you alone and protect you, like I said. If, for some reason, the rancher canít keep people from looking for you, then the admiral will come and warn you."
She nodded and turned to her mate. While they were conversing, Chip took the opportunity to check Lee over. The pulse was slow, but within normal range. That was good. He felt for injury and noticed something sticky on Leeís face. Chip presumed it was blood. Didnít seem fresh, so it must have happened during the escape.
He started when Rrarkgrrr touched him on the shoulder. Peering up, he saw the Bigfoot gesturing. They had agreed to hide for a couple of days before heading out.
Chip nodded. "Good! Go hide now."
Without a word the two creatures melted into the darkness. It was then that Chip turned on his flashlight and examined the skipper more closely. There was a half clotted cut just above the hairline, a large lump in the same place and Lee looked pale. The light, though, seemed to rouse him a bit and Chip turned the beam away from Leeís face.
The dark eyes fluttered open, Lee moaned and then he raised his hand to his head.
"You banged your head on something. Bled quite a bit for a while, but it seems to be better now. Hard to tell in the dark."
"How? Uh, how did I get here?" Crane asked, blinking in the semi-darkness. Then as though remembering something, he reached for his pocket.
Curious, Chip still answered the question. "Rrarkgrrr and Marrgrarr brought you."
"Oh." Then after a short pause, he added, "But they left. Marrgrarr was having a fit and I told them to go." Lee closed his eyes and sighed.
"You okay?" Chip asked, thinking his commander might have a mild concussion.
"They came back," Crane murmured, eyes still shut. There was another, longer pause and Chip realized that Lee had slipped into unconsciousness again. He pulled out his communicator. "Mountaineer to Sea Dog."
"Sea Dog here," came the quick reply from the admiral.
"Weíre by the lake, sir, but we need help."
"Yes, sir. Me and . . . a friend."
"Be right there. Leave the homing signal open. The private wavelength."
"Yes, sir." Chip closed off the voice communication but kept the device on. He moved the light a little further up the bank and saw the recent visit of the two creatures clearly marked on the shore. The admiral would most likely not be alone. Chip got to one knee and dragged the tank and spear gun with him, crawling painfully over the tracks as far up the bank as he could reach. By the time he heard people in the brush, he had done about all he could do and he slid back down to where Lee still lay unconscious. Morton took a deep breath, realizing just how exhausted he was.
"Chip!" the admiralís voice hissed from behind a narrow beam of a flashlight.
"Yes, Admiral," he answered softly. "I think Lee's hurt. He was only barely lucid for a few minutes before he passed out again.
Another voice sounded from behind the admiral. "You city boys donít have the sense God gave a sheep. Two of you come out to rescue one and I need to help rescue a rescuer?"
Chip could only assume that this was the rancher that Lee and the admiral had been working with. Behind the light of a lantern, he could see a reassuring smile and a twinkle of merriment in the hazel eyes. "Guilty as charged, sir," Chip replied.
The rancher, who appeared to be as tall as he was and lanky as Lee, held the lantern high over his head. He surveyed the immediate area. "I think maybe youíd better get rid of the scuba gear, Admiral, before my men get here. They were only told that you two were here to look for your injured friend, not to dive at night in my lake."
With a nod, the admiral took the gear and hid it under a thick copse of brush.
Chip shivered again, pulled his torn and dirty shirt out of the waterproof bag and put it on, then handed the bag to the admiral. Johnson and the admiral crouched down to check on Lee while Chip finished buttoning his shirt. The sodden pants stuck to his legs and felt like ice. He shivered again.
"Got Ďim a fair sized bump on the head, Admiral. Iíll have my men carry him easy to the house," Johnson said after his examination.
Nelson only nodded. He looked at his executive officer but said nothing. All explanations would come later in privacy.
Several of Johnsonís men showed up and they gently carried Crane to the ranch house. Johnson and the admiral helped Chip. None of the men asked any questions. Various noises still drifted to them from Sandersí ranch, but even that was quieting down, as was the glow of the fires from the burning buildings. A helicopter flew overhead from the neighboring ranch and then it was quiet for a moment.
Johnson made a sound deep in his throat then he said softly so that only Nelson and Morton could hear, "Donít know what your captain did, but I applaud his efforts. Now I would suggest that if you want to steer clear of any kind of probing questions, you make up something fairly quickly, because the feds will be coming to the ranch asking questions soon if they arenít there already."
Nelson nodded. "Simple. Chip here was hiking, fell, hurt himself and was finally able to call us for help. We came, the captain injured himself during the search and rescue and here we are. Iíll even show them the Flying Sub if they want to see it."
"But itís private property for miles around. No public hiking areas. The good climbing mountains are twenty miles away," Johnson pointed out.
Chip just shrugged. "I was in pain." That certainly wasnít a tall tale, he thought sourly as he hobbled between the two men. "Was also unconscious part of the time, so I donít know exactly how I got in the neighborhood. Besides, the Flying Sub picked me up and it landed here, closer to medical help." That wasnít a lie either, at least as far as he told it.
"That story has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, but I canít think of anything better, so let me just add to it," the admiral said with a slight chuckle. "Captain Crane went for help after we landed and was hurt."
"Your captain doesnít know this tale," Johnson pointed out.
Distant lights told them they were near the rancherís house. "Chip and I will be with him," Nelson said with finality.
"Well, I donít guess too many feds would question a four star admiral too closely," Johnson said with a chuckle.
"Oh, Iíve had my share of grilling, but Iíve also still managed to stay above water."
"Indeed you have, Admiral," Johnson replied fervently.
They continued on in silence, reaching the rancherís house after a short walk. Lee was gently placed in a bed in what appeared to be a guest room and Chip sank down in a sofa on the other side of the room. A woman about Johnsonís age came into the room, nodded to him and then looked in surprise at the unconscious man on the bed. "You said there was one, Joseph," she said, all the while gravitating to Lee.
"Well, these fellas are loyal to one another but sea and mountains are two different places," Johnson said matter-of-factly. "The captain over there, got hurt looking for his man."
The ranch hands left the room and the woman began to check the injured men.
"This is my missus," Johnson began. "Olive.* And dear, this is Admiral Harriman Nelson." He pointed to the admiral standing near the bed where his captain lay unconscious.
"I appreciate all that you and your husband are doing for us," Nelson said, his smile answering her surprised look.
"THE Admiral Nelson?" she asked, gaping for a moment. "With the big submarine?"
"Yes, maíam," he answered, nodding politely in acknowledgement. "This is Commander Chip Morton," he said, indicating Chip sitting on the small love seat sofa with his leg stretched out in front of him. "And that unfortunate rescuer who had to be rescued, is my captain, Commander Lee Crane."
At the sound of his name, Lee began to rouse somewhat, moving slightly on the bed. A stifled moan escaped but he didnít open his eyes.
"You need to call a doctor for both of these men," Olive Johnson said tersely.
"Already have, dear, but Jonathan is busy at the Sandersí place. Heíll be by on his way home. He said call an ambulance if the injuries are too great. I suspect that Commander Morton will need to go to the hospital anyway."
Chip sat up a bit straighter at that declaration. Not that he didnít realize it himself. You didnít set a broken leg in some rancherís guest room. However, he didnít want to go now. He gazed over at Lee and saw the signs that his friend was most likely conscious enough to be listening to the conversation. The admiral looked ready to say something, probably recognizing the same thing. Before he could, though, Leeís eyes opened and he surveyed the room and itís occupants in puzzlement.
"Howíd I get here?" he asked hesitantly, trying to sit up.
Chip jumped in before anyone could say anything. "You managed to get as far as the lake and I called the admiral."
More bewilderment and then the look became somewhat knowing. "Oh," was the only comment. He lay back down with a sigh.
Olive Johnson leaned over and examined the dried blood and gently touched the cut. This time there was no response. "Thereís no telling how long itíll be before Dr. Bryson gets here. Sounds like WWIII over there at Sandersí place." She looked at Chip, her eyes taking in the splinted and bound leg. "Broken?"
Chip nodded. "Yes, maíam," he replied. "Hiking up in the mountains. Slipped on some ice."
"How long ago?"
Chip tried to think. He took a deep breath and felt a twinge of pain. Ribs were still sore. Funny he didnít feel that when he was swimming. "Two, three days, I believe. Everything seems to have blurred together. But I think the captain has the more immediate need."
"Hard to say, but I am going to wash the cut." She looked meaningfully at all the men. "After I call for that ambulance. Both of them need more than Jonathan Bryson can deliver with his little black bag." She bustled out of the room and then came in a short time later with a small bowl of hot water and clean cloths and bandages. She worked with quick efficiency and despite some half-hearted resistance from the captain, soon had him cleaned up and a bandage on the cut on his head. Then she pulled her chair up to Chip. "By the way, the emergency responder said there would be a slight delay. Their squads had all been called to Sanders."
"Iím okay, maíam," Chip reassured her. "Just need a couple of aspirin. I ran out a day or so ago."
"Thatís up to the emergency room doctor," she retorted. "Iím still going to look you over. I may not be a doctor, but with three sons and a daughter, Iíve had my share of experience doctoring in my day."
"Yes, maíam," Chip acquiesced meekly.
The admiral and the rancher chuckled appreciatively. Olive Johnson ignored them for the moment.
"Anything else besides the leg?" she asked.
"Couple of ribs sore, maíam, but thatís all," Chip replied.
She nodded even as she visually inspected his splint. "You do this?"
"Not a bad job. They do teach you boys something in the Navy."
Chip started to bristle until he saw the smile on her face. Instead he sat quietly.
Just then the doorbell chimed. Without a word, Johnson got up and walked to the front door. Chip heard only snatches of conversation and then Johnson, a local cop and another man in plain clothing came into the room. There was no black bag so Chip knew that this was not Dr. Bryson.
*Olive was named after my great-grandmother, Olive Rosann Lamb, who was married to my great-grandfather, Joseph Johnson.