The Admiral and the Actress

by Helen

 

 

 

THE ADMIRAL AND THE ACTRESS

By Helen

 

 

The uniformed man sat alone at a table in the back of the Round Robin, twirling a highball glass of golden liquid. It was late afternoon, the light streaming through the street side windows still bright white in a cloudless Washington sky. The room’s dark woods and black leather chairs absorbed the sunlight and kept the interior cool and comfortable. Drawings and photographs of presidents, famous writers and the grandees of Washington society decorated the walls, documenting the Willard Hotel’s 100 years of existence as one of the foremost public houses in the Capitol. Its famous bar, the Round Robin, was a place where alliances were formed, deals made and secrets protected, or exposed.

 

Scattered around the tables were two senators, three congressmen and several members of the press, including Drew Pearson, the prominent columnist (some said liar and rabble-rouser of the masses) of the Washington Post. Mr. Pearson had drawn the attention of the men at his table to this particular individual, sparking a wager as to his identity. Uniforms of the services were common in Washington, DC. There was something different about this one, though. Quiet voices in the room, which was about two thirds filled, assumed he was visiting from a foreign country. Others like Pearson recognized him, and knew - this was an officer serving aboard the SSRN Seaview. Moreover, that many stripes, and that many ribbons, meant that the man could only be Admiral Harriman Nelson, founder of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research and builder of the largest nuclear submarine in the world.

 

Once identified, speculation arose as to what had brought him to Washington. Suggestions included a Pentagon conference, a high-level meeting of the ‘big brass,’ so covered with gold braid as to make a visitor squint in the radiance. Perhaps a consultation at the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey with Admiral Karo was on the schedule; Nelson’s Seaview was often engaged in oceanographic research; so the story went. Not everyone believed it. Pearson was one of those sceptics, but much to his intense annoyance he had never been able to pin down the proof. For once, his scurrilous insiders and snitches had let him down, some secrets proving too closely guarded even for him to winkle out.

 

The real reason for Nelson’s appearance in Washington was a simple one; he had flown in to attend the funeral of a longtime friend, a man he had met while both were on active service during the Korean War. Rear Admiral Robert Henderson had shown no symptoms of heart disease, and his sudden death had been a shock. He had also been two years younger than Harriman Nelson. So the older man sipped his glass of The Glenlivet and brooded on the unjustness of foreshortened lives.

 

A man in a United States naval officer’s dress whites came through the bar entrance, and stopped. Removal of his cover revealed a short thatch of white hair. The face was an ordinary face, medium-sized eyebrows arching over dark blue eyes, medium-sized mouth set under a medium-sized nose. In age, middle 50s; in height and weight, medium-sized. There was nothing remarkable about him at all; he had the appearance of an ordinary man, and but for the uniform, could have been a salesman or store manager somewhere. What was not ordinary was the way he scrutinized the room, making sure that not an inch of the place escaped his probing gaze. Here was a man who kept deep, dark secrets, even from himself. His eyes fell at last on Nelson. His mouth turned up in a smile, for once making it to his eyes. He did not smile often, and not at many others.

 

There was someone with him, an individual in a dark suit. The new arrival leaned over and his mouth moved in quiet words. His companion nodded and moved out of the doorway while the officer started into the room. Nelson stood up and they shook hands as he made his way to the table.

 

"Thanks for sticking around, Harry. Had to look in at the office after the funeral, check on a few things."

 

Nelson waved a hand, his academy ring flashing. He had worn it today, a rare occurrence. "No problem, I didn't have to be anywhere urgent right now, Bill. Please, sit down." Both men dropped into their seats. Nelson’s eyes sparkled. "Your shadow won’t be joining us?"

 

The reply was slow in coming, as if he’d been caught at something. "He’ll be just outside. You know I have enemies, Harry."

 

Nelson smiled a tight-lipped smile and tipped his drink to his mouth. He could not say that he was happy to see William Johnson, but Johnson had requested this meeting and Nelson had no reason to refuse. Staying away from this man and what he represented had almost become a game, one in which the rules were written by the availability of Lee Crane. Lee had found it impossible to step away from this duty to his country. He, Nelson had accepted the situation as far as his mood and temperament would allow. He could not, would not make Lee choose, not yet. He hoped that day was coming.

 

A white-coated waiter appeared at their sides. Nelson ordered another Scotch while his tablemate went for a dry Martini.

 

Johnson sat back and let the waiter move away before speaking. "Not a happy day, I’m afraid. I feel a lot more mortal today, Admiral Nelson."

 

"As do I, Admiral Johnson." Nelson tossed back the last dregs in his existing glass and broodingly moved it across the table.

 

Johnson leaned back and sighed tiredly. "Never thought that Henderson would be the next to go. Last time I saw him he was finishing a mile swim at The Army-Navy Country Club. Figured he’d die in bed with a bottle of booze and a broad. Damn heart attack." A reminder of transience briefly silenced both men, then Johnson asked, "When was the last time you saw him?"

 

Nelson thought about it for a moment, and said, "It was when Bob was aboard the old Aspro." He made circles on the tabletop with his glass. "I hadn’t realized it was that long ago until you asked. She made a port call in San Francisco just before I left for my Annapolis billet. Bob and I met up at the St. Francis for drinks. We kept in touch via Christmas cards and the occasional phone call but work and far-flung duties don't make for regular meetings. I should have made a better effort to keep in touch but you always think there will be time."

 

He’d felt the passage of time more acutely over the past few months. Lately the submarine and her crew had faced crisis after crisis, managing to keep the events concealed from a world that couldn’t be alerted to the threats lest panic and paranoia set in. There had been times when it was a near thing. Even the fact that they had acquired ‘supernatural’ help -- there was no other way to put it -- hadn’t lessened the danger. What would Johnson make of that, Nelson wondered. Could a man like him accept the presence of an omnipotent being interfering in the affairs of men? Nelson doubted that, very much. Then again, maybe he would want to ditch his dark-suited companion and get a goddess for himself. Nelson managed to keep laughter from bubbling out from between his lips. At least away from the boat, he could find some humor in the situation.

 

The waiter arrived with their drinks, and Nelson exchanged one glass for another.

 

Johnson took a satisfying drink, and spoke softly. "It's just the way of things in our world, Harry. Bob and I got pretty close during his last tour, when he was at Naval Reactors but it was our wives that did most of the visiting, of course. That's the way it usually is, the wives keep friendships alive and active." He stared thoughtfully at Nelson. "You never married again, Harry? Never came close?"

 

"No … just didn't work out. Always too much to do, places to be." He was surprised at Johnson knowing this most private information about him, but not as surprised as he was at the swift pang of hurt it triggered. Then again, it would be difficult to keep secrets from the director of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Johnson was a man whose need to know probed every fragment of a man's life, apparently even back to events involving a much younger Harriman Nelson. It had been so many years ago now, he had thought himself immune to the aching loss. He of all people knew that death in wartime was a common occurrence, and you got past it, had to, or it got you. That Vicky’s death could affect him so keenly, so suddenly many years later disturbed his equilibrium. He would push it away again, transfer it to an even darker corner of his mind.

 

He had done a good job of controlling his life since, ensuring that nothing interfered with the constant of his naval career, his scientific studies or the single-minded pursuit of the building of Seaview. Now, the single-mindedness he demanded of himself, to remain cold and distant to others, was crumbling. The temper was still there, the frustrations rising to the surface whenever something was not to his liking. But he was no longer pushing people away, no longer aloof to those around him. One side was clearly winning in the war to remain solitary and alone. Still, it was a topic of conversation within himself that unsettled him.

 

Belatedly he realized Johnson was repeating something.

 

"Let’s try this again. Duty doesn't always get in the way; there must have been the occasional lady to take your eye. Seeing anybody now? Or is it true what they say about you, that you’re married to the sea?"

 

Nelson gulped a large amount of his drink while he prevaricated. Why bring this up now? Why was Johnson so interested in his private life? Moreover, who were ‘they?’ Maybe he couldn’t help himself; being the Navy’s spymaster had ingrained itself into his personality. Fishing for information came naturally to him. As far as Nelson knew, he had done nothing to foster this sudden interest in his own comings and goings. It wasn’t a comforting thought, although he had little to hide. At least nothing that Johnson could use, were he so inclined.

 

Although there was one thing … but Johnson couldn’t possibly know about her!

 

Galené -- Greek goddess, the new, supernatural protector of Seaview and catalyst for all the whirlwind ideas about the direction his life was taking, had materialized at his hotel room right before his departure for Arlington Cemetery. He had hardly had a chance to be glad about it; she had left as quickly as she’d come, with a whiff of seawater and a cryptic message -- "see you at the Round Robin after the funeral. Don’t be surprised." A sudden horrifying thought occurred to him, and he took another sip from his drink to hide his discomfiture. Agreeing to meet with Johnson might well prove a disaster. She could show up at any moment, to find him visiting with the head of ONI, with no idea what she would look like, or what she would call herself. Of only one thing was he certain -- she would not shimmer into existence in the middle of the room, nor would her skin be a pale green color, nor would her cloak of shining grey-green hair be her only garment. Whether she would have her electric silver eyes, he’d find out soon enough.

 

A gasp from someone at one of the nearby tables saved him from having to answer. A woman stood in the doorway, a woman that looked startlingly like Audrey Hepburn. She was dressed in a knee-length, simple cylinder of lavender shantung, devastatingly haute couture. A triple strand of pearls adorned the v-shaped neckline. The honey tones of her complexion complemented the shining brown hair peeking out from underneath a pillbox hat. A dainty nose, snapping hazel eyes under the trademark thick eyebrows, and full, softly colored red lips completed the look. She was undeniably, strikingly, attractive, in an elfin, thoroughly Audrey Hepburn way. It was Audrey Hepburn.

 

All conversation stilled as the maître d’ hurried forward to have a whispered conversation with the visitor. With a flourish, he bowed slightly and indicated a path through the crowded room. She flashed the world famous gamin-like smile and followed, ignoring the whispered conversations that accompanied her progress. No one in Washington was too jaded to ignore the presence of an Academy Award-winning actress in their midst.

 

As the maître d’ neared Nelson’s table, her almond shaped eyes grew wide and she stopped abruptly.

 

"Harriman Nelson! What a lovely surprise," Miss Hepburn exclaimed in her soft European accent.

 

Both men stood up as she reached out with a white gloved hand, taking Nelson's arm and kissing him lightly on the cheek. "Harry, darling," she said theatrically, "it’s been too long. Six months, isn’t it, since we met at the UNICEF conference in Geneva?"

 

"Uh .…"

 

Suddenly the room grew quiet, and he became aware that all talk had ceased. In fact, everyone in the room seemed frozen in place, Johnson with a grin on his face, a woman at the next table holding her cocktail half way to her lips, others caught in similar ways. Only Miss Hepburn was moving, enabling Nelson to see a very familiar silver eye close in a slow wink. Then the room became as it had been only a few seconds before, and he answered her with a simple, effective lie.

 

"Six months sounds about right," he said, stumbling a bit over the words. Only Galené would have the nerve to show up in one of the busiest restaurants in the Capitol, impersonating someone as famous as the star of Breakfast at Tiffany’s!

 

Johnson’s voice cut through the ensuing silence. "Aren’t you going to introduce us, Harry?"

 

"Ummm, of course. Miss Hepburn, may I present Admiral William Johnson."

 

She thrust out a white-gloved hand. "How do you do, Admiral Johnson. I’m delighted to meet you." Her beaming smile and flirtatious eyes echoed the genuineness of her greeting.

 

A bemused look on his face, Johnson took her hand and shook it, his fingers lingering. "Harry, I didn’t know you had made the acquaintance of one of the world’s most beautiful and foremost actresses," he said, never taking his eyes off her.

 

"How delightfully complimentary you are, sir. I was attending a fund raising reception for one of my favorite charities when I met the admiral. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he doesn’t even remember, the room was simply packed with people."

 

Johnson grinned at Nelson's obvious discomfort. "I very much doubt that to be true, Miss Hepburn. No one would forget meeting you, especially someone as observant as Admiral Nelson."

 

The actress in her smiled delicately and inclined her head at the flattering comment. "Charles, I’ll join these gentlemen, if you don’t mind."

 

"Of course, Madame," the maître d’ answered breathlessly as he held out a chair, hovered momentarily and reluctantly went back to his post at the door.

 

All three sat down, and Galené AKA Audrey Hepburn settled herself comfortably and drew off her gloves slowly, with full knowledge that every eye in the room was upon her. Nelson signaled the waiter, and was surprised to see the man already on his way over with a glass on a tray.

 

"Nice to see you again, Miss Hepburn. Your usual?"

 

"Yes, thank you, Frank," she said appreciatively.

 

He picked up the drink and deposited it in front of her. The glass contained something frothy and green in color, decorated with a mint leaf. She held it up, saying "Cheers, gentleman," and took a sip.

 

Johnson leaned back in his chair and swirled the liquid in his cocktail. "You’ve been holding out on me, Harry. Even with your onerous duties, you get around to some interesting places."

 

The little bite of sarcasm was subtle. Nelson imagined a ghostly notebook pulled out from Johnson’s pocket and a starred entry placed by his name. He opened his mouth to reply, but his companion put a hand on his arm.

 

"Well, you must know how terribly important Harry’s work has been for the world, Admiral. It was a pleasure spending even a short time with him at the conference, getting to know the man behind the reputation," she added, tilting her head while the sides of her mouth formed an enormous grin.

 

"Well, I must say, meeting you here is an unexpected but very pleasant surprise. Don't you agree, Harry?"

 

Nelson, gazed at the vision seated coyly beside him and rubbed a hand over his mouth as he murmured, "Yes, indeed, a very pleasant surprise."

 

"You might say as unexpected for Harry as for you, Admiral. He had no idea I would be in town today. It has afforded me the chance to renew our friendship, however." Galené smiled knowingly at Harriman Nelson and then suddenly rose from the table, making a gesture as they made to get up themselves. "Sit, gentlemen, sit. I’ve just seen some people that I must say hello to. Won’t be a moment." She placed a slender hand on the back of Johnson’s chair. "As soon as I get back we’ll chat further, Admiral Johnson."

 

She turned away and walked over to the circle bar, where a man and a woman were waiting, air kisses flying. Galené began talking animatedly to them.

 

Johnson’s eyes lingered on her for a moment and then he dragged them back to Nelson. "Lord almighty, Harry, you dog. Audrey Hepburn!"

 

Nelson didn’t answer. Better to have Johnson think he was just being mysterious. The ghostly notebook received another entry.

 

"Any other surprises? Anything or anyone else I should know about?"

 

Nelson narrowed his own eyes a little. "If there was, Bill, it would certainly be none of your business."

 

Johnson chuckled silently, his jaw working. "There’s a lot that’s my business, Harry."

 

"Nothing to do with me."

 

The salesman look disappeared. "I’ve seen her movies, Harry. She likes older men. You could do a lot worse."

 

His jaw clinching, Nelson said very deliberately, "I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your vulgar suggestions to yourself."

 

Johnson stared at him for a moment, and then shrugged. "Now, don’t get sore, Harry, I was just having a little fun."

 

Nelson’s reply died on his lips as Galené returned to their table, sat down and picked up her drink, turning her full attention to Johnson. Over the rim of her glass, she regarded him shrewdly, and asked, "What do you do here in Washington, Admiral Johnson?"

 

"I run the Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence," he answered casually while he picked up his martini. There was a hint of pompousness in the statement.

 

"Oh, how terribly important that must be. To know all your country's secrets and be responsible for much of her safety. You must be a very, very busy and important man."

 

To Nelson’s chagrin, Bill Johnson and ‘Audrey Hepburn’ were soon chatting away, she flirting outrageously while Johnson became all smiles, occasionally throwing an amused look at Nelson. It soon became apparent that the ONI chief was a connoisseur of movies and the stars that played in them, swapping anecdotes and comments with Galené, her assumption of the actress’s persona complete.

 

Given all that Nelson had personally observed of her powers, he often wondered if she enjoyed a little idle toying with the mortals she encountered. Did she take pleasure in manipulating and directing their actions, possibly even his own? Had she exercised her supernatural influences over him when he had resisted her ‘advice?’ He pondered this thought as he studied her convincing performance in the role she had adopted, as good an actress as the actress herself. He had often seen her like this when they were together; animated, buoyant, almost lit from within with life and vitality. However, she wasn't with him right now, her concentration was solely directed at Johnson as he hung on her every flirtation. She seemed mesmerized by the man.

 

And then, after Johnson had made some pithy comment and reached down to pick up his glass, she looked over at Nelson and rolled her eyes. His own glass hid the grin on his face.

 

When she had Johnson’s attention again, she said, "Admiral, you are indeed an interesting man. Your knowledge of my work is impressive. And how busy you must be with your own career! I’m sure you can be very proud of what you’ve accomplished. Tell me, have you heard this?" She lowered her voice and leaned towards Johnson. "Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them. Do you not find it so, Admiral?"

 

Johnson’s face changed, the expression clear; he had not expected this and was not sure how to handle it. Seeing Johnson at a loss for words was a rare occurrence, and Nelson cheered silently inside as the admiral stared off into a corner of the room, and answered.

 

"Ambition and principles can be an uneasy combination in a man, Miss Hepburn. I’m sure that we all like to think that we know the limits of the one and the importance of the other. Sometimes, the times demand we choose. All one can do is make the best decision possible, based on the information at hand." The lines on his face deepened as he studied her face in perplexed confusion, as if looking for the real meaning behind her words. "I wouldn’t have taken you for a connoisseur of quotes from Napoleon."

 

"Well, I did star in War and Peace, you might remember." Her tinkling laugh caused heads to come up and gaze in their direction and she leaned back with a satisfied air.

 

Johnson laughed along with her, while casting another speculative look. "Yes, of course. Well, it has certainly been … enlightening and a great pleasure to meet you, Miss Hepburn. Mrs. Johnson and I admire your work very much and shall look forward to watching you again on the big screen. Now, unfortunately it’s time for me to go," he said, picking up his glass and draining it. "Got to pick up my wife at the airport." He stood up from the table and took her outstretched hand.

 

"It's been charming to meet you, Admiral. Perhaps we shall again … in Harry's company."

 

As Johnson raised a questioning eyebrow at the casualness of her address, Nelson’s face darkened. So much for what he’d protested earlier. The ghostly pen over the ghostly notebook must be operating at double time. He could almost see the wheels turning in Johnson’s brain, as he wisely kept his counsel as to just how intimate their relationship might be.

 

Johnson picked up his cover, tucked it under his arm and bowed slightly to Galené. "That would be a pleasure to look forward to." He turned to Nelson. "I’ll talk to you soon, Harry. Give my regards to Commander Crane, tell him I'll be in touch."

 

"If I must, Bill. You know that the less I see him working for you, the better," Nelson growled discontentedly.

 

"Well, as long as he stays one of our best, there’s little chance of that changing."

 

"Which means that he’ll be getting a call from you very soon no doubt, and there won’t be a damn thing I can do about it."

 

"Got to stay one step ahead of the bad guys, Harry." Johnson turned to her again, grinning. "Napoleon forgot that, and it cost him an empire. As I said, a pleasure meeting you, Miss Hepburn. Tell Crane I’ll be calling him."

 

"If I have to," Nelson barked.

 

Johnson started for the entrance. Several tables away, Drew Pearson stood up and blocked his way. The two men shook hands and began a furtive conversation.

 

Picking up his drink, Nelson said behind it, "Was all that necessary? You know he’s going to check on this so-called conference in Geneva as soon as he’s back in his office! Couldn’t you have shown up as someone a little less famous? Audrey Hepburn, of all people!"

 

"Don’t be such a spoilsport, darling. I’m just having a little fun," Galené answered, turning to look at Nelson. "No one in this room is going to remember this afternoon quite as clearly as they think they will, and certainly not that Miss Hepburn was here. I’m quite safe -- we are quite safe. Are they still looking over here and trying very hard to not appear to be doing so?"

 

"Absolutely." He picked up her hand and hesitated only a moment before he kissed it, not caring if Johnson was watching. He smiled resignedly and looked at her with mild amusement. "What are you doing here anyway?"

 

"I thought you could use a friendly face, after the funeral. And as there was nothing requiring my attention, decided to come and be with you." Her voice took on a deeper tone. "I’ve missed you, you know."

 

It had come almost as an afterthought; he did not think she had not intended to say so much. Pressing his advantage, he asked slyly, "Does that mean you can stay for a while?"

 

She smiled that gamin smile again. "I believe it does."

 

He couldn’t resist adding, "You sure you’re not wanted to save the world anywhere? Seaview’s okay at the moment?" There was a rather shrewd and calculating gleam in his bright blue eyes.

 

"I am completely footless and fancy free." In a whisper, she said, "And I think that Seaview can spare you for a few days, too."

 

While they had talked, she had leaned closer and closer into him, until they were almost touching. A cough from a nearby table caused her to blink rapidly and straighten up, a flush spreading over her skin. "I probably should remember where I am at the moment," Galené said, laughing, reaching for her glass and taking a sip. "I’m very glad that Admiral Johnson joined you today. I’ve wanted to meet him for a while. It always helps to know all the combatants. Did you appreciate my little quotation, Harry?"

 

The change of subject was unwanted but not unwelcome, for the room had suddenly grown very warm. He accepted the reversal with good grace, reaching for his own drink. "I did. You surprised him, definitely. He’s probably still thinking about it. Certainly, Johnson and his ilk all over the world would do well to see to it that little problems don’t turn into big problems. Then perhaps Lee wouldn’t have to be involved so often. I prefer my captains remain in one piece."

 

His thoughts came around to what he and Johnson had sparred about. It was easier to turn the object of conversation to Lee and the continuing irritation with his work for ONI, rather than dwell on her refusal to allow them to be seen in public together. She could appear as anyone, obviously; a Galené without the green skin was possible. When would she allow that, he wondered. He took a deep breath, knowing he’d put off what he was going to say long enough.

 

"I’d still prefer it if you’d stop being someone else when you’re with me."

 

He sat back as her head snapped up and she stared at him, her lips tightening. The words that emerged were uttered tautly in her own, upper class British voice. "We’re not on Seaview at the moment, darling; this is hardly a place to issue orders."

 

"Is that what you think I’m doing?"

 

"Aren’t you?"

 

"I’m sorry you think so," he conceded, running a hand through his hair. "My apologies."

 

Her eyes softened. "All in good time, Harry. We will wait until it’s the right time -- for you. Would you really want Admiral Johnson to pry into your private life any more than he already has?"

 

So she knew what Johnson had said, and had overhead his loutish insinuations. She had been there, invisible, waiting to make her entrance. He doubted he would ever get used to it.

 

"Johnson gets under my skin," he said, grumbling, "especially when it comes to Lee’s cloak and dagger work for ONI. He knows how much I resent it."

 

"I suspect he enjoys baiting you about Lee, since there’s not a thing you can do about it. Commander Crane has a highly developed sense of duty and commitment. Admiral Johnson counts on that and is rewarded for it. I understand your concern, Harry, and know better than you will ever want to acknowledge, the feelings you have for that young man."

 

He squirmed a bit, quickly embarrassed by the sentiment. "He’s pushing his luck, every time he goes out for Johnson." He couldn’t say more, not here, of how much he worried whenever Lee went off on one of his ONI missions.

 

She patted his arm. "I know, Harry; I know. Always remember Lee is quite adept at taking care of himself. I can also help, to some extent." She smiled curiously. "Are they still talking?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Interesting … I should have thought Johnson would steer clear of such men. He is someone who knows how to keep a secret, and Pearson has no use for those who do so. One can be said to find evil where it doesn’t exist and the other one where it does. But perhaps, after all, they are two of a kind …." Galené’s voice trailed off as another naval officer appeared in the doorway. Catching sight of Nelson, he headed determinedly toward their table.

 

"Good afternoon, Admiral. I’ve just come from the Navy Department. We received the following message for your immediate attention, sir."

 

Nelson reached up and took the paper. "Thank you, Lieutenant." He read it, frowning. "Let your superiors know I’m acknowledging receipt. Dismissed."

 

"Understood, sir. Good afternoon, Admiral, miss – Miss Hepburn!" He had finally looked at her and was stunned to silent astonishment.

 

"Good afternoon, Lieutenant." Galené smiled impishly as she batted her eyelids, totally astounding the young officer.

 

He gulped, nodded absently before he turned smartly and made his way out with more than one backward glance, and not quite as fast as he came in.

 

Johnson, alerted by the arrival of the courier and the frown on Nelson's face, hastily finished his talk with Pearson and came back to the table. "Anything wrong, Harry?"

 

"Not … not that I know of," Nelson began hesitatingly. "I don’t think so, anyway. Just got this from Lee." He handed the note to Johnson. "Know anything about it?"

 

The admiral recited the note aloud. "Japanese government requesting our assistance. Most urgent." He looked down at his seated friend. "Must have come in after I stopped by the office." Johnson was now all business. "Where’s Seaview at the moment?"

 

He’d called Santa Barbara that morning before going to Arlington, for a status report.

 

"Probably about 1,500 nautical miles from the Philippines, near Guam," Nelson said immediately.

 

"I’ll telephone when I get home and check on it. I assume you’ll be in your room here at the Willard?" Getting Nelson’s affirmative, he pocketed the note and left the room quickly, brushing off Pearson, who had risen in his way again. Pearson’s face darkened at the imperious dismissal and he glared at Nelson with increased interest as he slowly sat down.

 

Nelson waited until Johnson had stepped away and turned to Galené again, intending to make plans for the evening. He was shocked to realize her body had gone rigid, hand clinched on her cocktail glass.

 

"What’s happened? What’s wrong?"

 

She picked at a spot on the table, head down. He caught a glint of silver eyes. "You need to find your way out to Seaview as quickly as you can."

 

"Is she in some sort of danger?" he asked quickly.

 

"It is always best to find out in person."

 

It wasn’t a straight answer, and he wondered what she was concealing. She was capable of knowing things far beyond the understanding of mortals. It astounded and dejected him at the same time. Would there ever be a time again when they could be together, without evil hanging about, ready to strike? The sigh was deep and genuine.

 

"I’ll pull some strings and get a flight out. I’ll let Johnson know that I’m going to join her out there."

 

Something must have shown in his eyes, for she said, "We’ll have some time together soon, I promise. This may be nothing." She leaned over and made to kiss him on his lips, and then remembered. The kiss became a peck on the cheek. "I’ll think about what you said. Be careful, love." With a shrug, she was Audrey Hepburn again. As she rose from the table, a ripple of applause began. She acknowledged the recognition with a wave, and swept out of the bar, head held high.

 

He signaled for the tab, signed it, and followed her out a few minutes later, heading for his room and the telephone. He had not liked the look on her face, or the implication that something was threatening. Seaview was engaged in a simple mission, crisscrossing a few miles of the western Pacific, double-checking that the latest mapping coordinates were correct. For the Japanese government to contact her crew was highly unusual. The Asian nation maintained a form of isolation even in these modern times, preferring to deal with issues on their own. All he could do was get to his boat and find out at first hand.

 

Behind him, memories were already being imperceptibly cleansed of the actress’s unexpected appearance. Better that, than unneeded questions that couldn’t be answered. He wondered how much Johnson would remember of this meeting, hoped there would be nothing except the circumstances surrounding the cryptic radio message. That was mystery enough. He also hoped this would not turn out to be the prelude to another crisis. He had had enough of those to last for some time.

 

 

 

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