by Helen H.
"The reference is Conrood and Bogel, not
Conrad and Vogel," Harriman Nelson said, stabbing his pen through the
line of text. "Take that
one down, too. I have never
seen such a piece of -- sorry, Angie.
This is getting ridiculous," he muttered.
His secretary did as requested, and then used the
excuse of straightening her skirt to sneak another look at her watch.
He was only on the third page.
So much for getting out from work a bit early today.
Angie settled back into her chair, mood darkening.
How was she going to explain this to her dinner date?
If I even get there at all,
she thought morosely.
Angela Williams was a beauty in anyone's language.
She carried her good looks on a tall and slim frame.
Her chestnut hair was combed back from her forehead and hugged the
sides of her head, cut to just below the ears.
High cheekbones defined her face.
Just in her middle twenties, if her dark brown eyes carried more
than a trace of worldly wisdom in them, it was only because life at the
Nelson Institute of Marine Research was never, ever dull.
She was dressed especially well today, in a coral pink two-piece
outfit that skimmed over her hips. There
was a pretty little bow at the waist. Her
coral-colored mouth was caught in one corner of her teeth as she wrote
down yet another edit from the brief the admiral was vetting.
Resisting the temptation to look at her watch
again, she looked down at the admiral's hands instead.
He was gripping the pen, a dangerous sign. That meant he was building up to a big burn, not a small one.
His eyes were hard and flashing fire, another sure
sign of annoyance. Where his
khaki uniform shirt touched his shoulders was rigid.
She was very glad she was not the scientist who had submitted this
report. The thought of what
that meeting would be like flitted through her imagination and
involuntarily she shifted position, thumping her pencil against the
notebook. It came out louder
in the enfolding quiet.
"I heard that, Miss Williams," Admiral
Nelson intoned. "Am I
she thought. It's coming. "I am
so sorry, Admiral!" Angie exclaimed.
"I really am paying attention.
It's just that I've got a date tonight...."
Harry threw his pen down. His shoulders didn't
relax. "Forgive me, Miss
Williams. You should have said something before.
Certainly your personal time is important.
Angie braced and exhaled a deep breath.
By the way he said her name, "personal time" and
"important" he had meant nothing of the sort.
She did have a good reason, and generally he'd have been
supportive. Not tonight.
Tonight he was angry, and he was taking it out on her.
"Thank you, Admiral.
I'll be in early tomorrow morning and I'll get what I have all
typed up for your review, sir."
Nelson took a deep breath of his own, lips
working, the frown lines between his eyes deepening.
"Fine. I'll have
more for you. You’d better hurry along."
Angie started to say something, and then stopped,
shaking her head before rising and leaving his office.
As she slammed home the file drawers and locked the cabinets she
reminded herself that his present attitude wasn't personal; she knew it
wasn't, but some days it was worse than others.
He did try her patience. She
knew it, and at least he knew it, too.
Well, he did most of the time.
She stuck her head in around the door one last
time, making sure there was a smile on her face.
"Thanks again, Admiral. See
you tomorrow, sir!"
here," Harry said in a resigned voice.
"Yes, sir, I've no doubt of that," Angie
retorted, and shut the door firmly. A
flurry of diminishing footsteps marked her progress.
The outer door closed and quiet settled on the premises.
Harry went back to red penciling the document he
held in his hand, furious with the author for his sloppy conclusions.
The man was a new hire at the Institute but his inexperience was no
excuse for most of the errors. He
had simply not followed correct procedures.
What was really bothersome was that this report should never have
reached his desk in the first place.
What had the man's department head been thinking?
Harry sat back, thoughtfully pulling at his ear.
He had left the running of the research departments at the
Institute to his senior scientific staff.
Seaview was his only concern, now that the government was pressuring
him to do more every day. As
a consequence he no longer had the time to oversee the hiring of junior
associates like Sagara. He'd
delegated the work; that's what subordinates were for.
Harry drew an irritated sigh.
Somebody was falling down on the job, and he was going to make damn
sure they got back on track.
At least all the offices ran smoothly. Angie was the Institute's Administrative Manager as well as his secretary. Her young age had never worked against her. She soothed, cajoled and captivated the numerous egos that ran through the buildings, effortlessly meshing them into a cohesive, efficient force. He castigated himself for his irritation at her wanting to leave at a reasonable hour for once. It was way past regular office hours -- as usual. He expected too much; some day she would have enough and a young man would whisk her away for good, away from his outbursts and bad temper.
The building's private entrance door slammed open,
and Harry felt a fissure of alarm. His
hand moved towards the top drawer of his desk as someone came rapidly
towards him through the private anteroom.
An agitated Angie
burst back into his office, her face flushed and breathing hurried.
"My car won't start, Admiral! Doggone it, of all the times to have this happen!" she
wailed desperately. "I
knew I needed a new battery... should have taken care of it sooner.
I'm going to call the garage and see if they can give me a jump.”
She looked at her watch. “Do
you think somebody will still be there?"
"It might be too late," Harry began, and
then his eyes fell on a key ring on the corner of his desk. "Take this, Angie.
My car's in the shop, so I've had one of the pool cars for the last
couple of days."
"Oh, I don't
"It's the least I
can do for keeping you so late."
Relief flooded her
features, and just as quickly faded.
"But sir, how will you get home?"
"When I'm ready
to leave I'll call Security."
Still Angie hesitated.
She always wanted to appear perfect before Admiral Nelson, never
ruffled or flustered. She
thought about apologizing for her parting flippant outburst, and decided
not to take the chance to remind him.
After all, he was looking up at her with those calm, considerate
eyes she had grown to respect.
"Well, if I wasn't desperate...." she
murmured softly as she reached to take the proffered keys. She did so want to keep this date.
Harry cocked his head in silent appraisal.
He should have noticed that his secretary seemed preoccupied this
evening. Angie Williams was a
beautiful young woman. That
fact hadn't escaped the attention of the young men on his staff.
"Anyone I know,
She barked that out, startling them both. There would be no going out with anyone at the Institute as
far as she was concerned. Her
voice lowered. "It's
someone I met a couple of weeks ago. This is our second date.
I just hate to be the helpless female, chronically late, making up
excuses." She hadn't
known Charlie Gibbons long, but she had already received the impression
that punctuality was a big deal with him.
Her hand closed over the key ring.
"I will take that car, sir.
Thank you, I need to get going!" she answered, smiling
Charlie was someone she had met at the university while taking a night class in art
appreciation. They had hit it
off immediately, going for coffee after class a couple of times before
he'd proposed dinner. He was
a CPA in town, working for a long-established firm.
Maybe not the most exciting type -- nobody could be, compared with
the job that she had -- but he was good looking and amusing and, she
thought, safe. Someone who
would be home every evening, someone she wouldn't have to walk the floor
over, wondering if he was dead or dying.
Unlike certain men at NIMR.
Was that a look of disappointment in the admiral's
eyes? She wondered if he
expected her to go out only with the men at the Institute, ones that he
knew and approved of. Well,
that wasn't going to happen.
If there was disappointment, it was gone quickly.
"See you tomorrow, Angie.
Be careful, it's a big car."
She tilted her chin up and glared at him with
proud defiance through her eyelashes.
"I figure if I can drive my daddy's tractor, I can drive this,
sir!" With a salute from
her temple she was gone again.
Harry grinned at the closed door. Angela Williams could be as tough as a salty chief and as
soft as a southern belle, depending on the situation.
Working with her had been a learning experience for both of them.
Thoughts about losing her rose up again.
He shook himself mentally, and concentrated on the paperwork in
front of him. He would give
it another twenty minutes and be gone himself.
Twenty minutes had stretched to forty-five when
the phone on Harry's desk jangled loudly, shattering the silence. Despite himself, he jumped, and it was with a chagrined look
he picked up the receiver.
An excited voice spoke on the other end of the
line. "Admiral Nelson?
Security said you were still in.
This is Henderson at the gate.
I've got a gentleman up here who is reporting a car accident."
What's this all about, Henderson?"
There were voices talking over each other, and it
took a few seconds before the security guard replied.
"He says his name is Jordan Wooler, from the ranch next door.
Do you know him?"
The man was the caretaker for Rancho Las Cruces, a
large ranch that occupied the rest of the canyon above the Institute's
many acres. Jordan had become
a good personal friend.
"Yes, I know him.
What's he saying about a car accident?"
"Let me give him
the phone, sir. It'll be
easier that way."
There was the sound of some scuffling, and then an
elderly voice came on the line. "Admiral
What's going on?"
"I'm pretty sure it's one of the Institute's
cars, Admiral. Those big
black tanks y'all like to use. I
was up on the mesa with my telescope."
He paused, as if
approval was needed. Harry
said impatiently, "Yes, yes, go on."
Saw a car come from the Institute side.
Headlights stand out up there, you know. Since it was a little early for the best stargazing, I just
trained my telescope on the car. It
was traveling slow, making the turns.
Then out of the corner of my eye I saw another car coming from the
highway side. Didn't think
much about it, 'til it turned off the road and faced me.
Figured there was somethin' wrong with it, no reason to stop along
there for anything else. Then
the headlights went off. Didn't
think much about that, either, too far for me to offer any help, you know. Saw the first car go by right about then.
Then this is where it gets interestin', Admiral.
That second car took off after the first one, and ran into the back
The room closed in
around him, quiet and still. "Are
you sure, Jordan?"
"Yes, sir, sure
as I'm sitting here, well, standin' here, talking to you."
"Where was this,
how long ago, Jordan?"
"Not sure 'xactly, sir, just up the canyon,
that's about all I can tell you. I
got over here as fast as I could, that 'ol Jeep of mine doesn't negotiate
those deep ruts as good as she used to, hard goin'--"
"--How long, Jordan?"
"Uh, uh, about
thirty minutes, yep, no more than thirty minutes for sure."
Harry gripped the edge of his desk with his free
hand. It had happened, then,
about fifteen minutes after she'd left the office.
How far had she gotten?
She might have been driving as fast as she could, hurrying to
her dinner date. Then again,
would Angie have been conservative, in an unfamiliar car?
Recovering quickly, he passed the hand over his face and said
brusquely, "Alright, man, think!
Where did this happen? Was
it near Franklin Overlook? There's
a light there, remember?"
Nope, not quite that far. Okay,
I'm picturin' it in my head. I'm
gettin' ready to write some notes in my notebook.
The breeze is coming up the canyon and it feels good.
I see a car's headlights off to my right, coming towards me.
Then the car's lights are pointing sideways to me again, heading
down the road. The driver got
another fifty yards or so before comin' on the other car.
Probably saw the car sitting there, but wouldn't have thought
anything about it. Soon as
the Institute car went past, the other car whipped out and started
following. He pulled right up
to the rear bumper. He only
had his parking lights on, but being so close he didn't need anything
Nelson thought out loud.
"The car stopped where that little creek comes down the side
of the hill, where the road builders put in that pipe to carry the water
to the other side and down the canyon.
It's wide enough there for one car.
That's about six miles from the main gate!
Go on, Jordan, tell me the rest."
"Well, the other car kept coming and slammed
into the back of the first car, and it twisted to the right. He got the car straightened out, but there wasn't much he
could do, you just can't drive that fast on that road, you know.
Doggone it, he tried, though, have to give him credit for
"It's not a he,
it's a woman, Jordan. My
secretary was driving that car."
Good lord, Admiral! Son
of a.... I'm
sorry, sir, I'm gonna start over. So
they went this way for a little while more, maybe a couple hundred yards,
then he caught up to her again. He
was pushing and pushing, and the big car just went sideways.
I could see the headlights bouncing up and down as they got closer
to the edge of the cliff. Then
it went over, and started tumbling, and the other car just kept on going
for a bit farther before it stopped.
The car that was pushed, I saw the headlights go off about half way
Harry steeled himself
to ask the next question. "No
"No, sir. No explosion. I just heard it falling, and I quick-like threw everything into my Jeep and came to find you. I knew I was going to need help for what happened."
the same canyon where John Phillips had been killed in a fiery gun battle
that had almost cost Harry his own life.
No explosion. There was still a chance....
"Did you hear me, Admiral? Me and Henderson here will call the Santa Barbara Fire
Department. I'll go up the
road and lead 'em back down."
"Yes, good work, Jordan. We know she didn't make it to the tunnel, so there's probably
a stretch of three miles of canyon where she could be. I say we start at the Overlook and work our way back down to
the pipe. I'll get our Fire
Department on the horn." He
gripped the phone tighter. "When
we find her, it'll be because of you."
Harry closed the connection and then stared at the
phone. The Fire Department --
what was the extension? Angie
would have known.
He knew the number to Security.
"It's Admiral Nelson.
There's been an accident on the road, a car over the side near the
Overlook. Get somebody down
here to pick me up. And call
the Fire Department and have them meet me at the main gate. We'll need an ambulance.
And get a couple of our helicopters up--what? Fog? Damn it,
alright, alright, never mind! Just
get everyone down there right now!"
Nelson slammed down the phone and sat there for a moment, anger and worry suffusing his face. His secretary pushed off the road in a car he had given her! No time to think about who had done this now. He stood up and came around the side of his desk, sprinting out the door, fear motivating him to move quickly.
* * * * *
The driver stopped on the
road and walked back to where the Institute's car had gone over the side
of the hill. It wasn't
particularly deep here, but the big automobile had had a lot of momentum
going over. Hands on his
hips, he looked down. The car
had disappeared completely. He
was only sorry that there wasn't any fire.
He pulled a large tree
branch out of his trunk and surveyed the patch of dirt and gravel. The scars the Lincoln had made as it went over showed up like
arrow shafts in the moonlight. Working
quickly he smoothed out the telltale markings.
The skid marks on the road wouldn't matter; people hit their brakes
on this road all the time.
Satisfied with his work, he threw the branch away and got back in his car to drive away like a perfectly innocent motorist. He'd earned his pay.
* * * * *
a groan, Angie blinked and opened her eyes.
"Did I fall down the stairs, why can't I see...." she
mumbled groggily, her heart racing. "God,
my head hurts...." She
thought the world was roiling but couldn't say for sure, it was so dark.
Where was she? This wasn't her bedroom.
A hawk's cry from somewhere above assailed her senses, and with it
came awareness. The
car. The admiral's
"Oh, no. He's gonna kill me!"
She was lying across the seat, the steering wheel only inches from her face. Something crunched as she moved to sit upright. A hand across her torso revealed she was covered with beads of glass. There was just enough shadowy moonlight to reveal that the windshield was completely gone. Angie raised a hand toward her hairline and came away with a sticky substance. She began whimpering, realizing with shuddering horror that it was blood that was caking her hand and her head. She touched the spots again, probing, relieved to find just trickles from cuts along her hairline. She swallowed and took a deep breath.
"I'm not dead, damn it. Get a hold of yourself, woman, and sit up."
Teeth clenched with the effort, Angie gripped the
seat back and pulled herself to a sitting position.
Glass rained down around her.
The moonlight was enough to see by, not that she wanted to, because
straining to see brought tendrils of pain behind her eyes and that caused
short, heavy breaths. Pain
was starting to radiant up from her shoulders into the back of her head.
Groaning a little, she looked around.
The car was miraculously
sitting upright, every window broken out.
She had no idea where she was, remembering only that she had driven
for perhaps fifteen minutes, taking her time on the twisting road, the big
car handling like the monster it was.
memory exploded in on her brain.
other car coming out of nowhere...
into the back bumper...
...her car turning around....
She had only seen the
driver in the flashes of her brake lights, but she thought it was a man.
It hadn't been an accident; he had deliberately slammed into the
car. The sheer absurdity of
it filled her senses, which didn't help the headache forcing itself behind
"I'll stay here, it's warm enough. They'll
find me in the morning. So
much for my big date. Charlie
is never gonna believe this! Shoot,
I hurt all over...."
The car was cooling, metal popping in the dark.
There was a hissing coming from somewhere, and dripping sounds.
Dripping sounds, and
then the smell. Gasoline.
There would be no staying in the car now.
She had to get out, get away as far as she could.
She tried the driver's door
first. It gave only a couple
of inches before slamming against something hard.
Scooting around to the passenger side and gritting her teeth, she
pushed against the door handle. With
a loud screech, the door shuddered open.
Angie put out her leg and probed for the ground.
There was nothing under her foot.
Holding her breath, she swung the other leg around and pushed
herself off the seat.
She fell in a heavy lump
onto ground that was sloping away, and began sliding and twisting down the
side of a rock formation. Her
screams echoed across the canyon as she crashed through a canopy of
bushes. Their branches caught at her clothing, ripping and tearing.
Then it was over as the rocks gave way to a mixture of sand and
gravel at their base. Flaying
like a rag doll, she collapsed onto her face, unconscious.
The year-round creek that flowed through the canyon bubbled a couple of feet away. High above, night birds streaked through the air looking for their favorite insect for dinner. A deer stepped through the brush. Its head came up, alarmed by an unfamiliar scent. It bolted back the way it had come. A family of raccoons followed soon after, noses in the air. There was something on the ground they did not like. With an annoyed chattering the parents scurried away, youngsters waddling right behind, to find another place to cross the creek.
* * * * *
Harry had told himself he
was going to concentrate on his driving.
But the thoughts wouldn't leave his brain, the ones that always
involved sorrow and loss.
An assassination attempt.
Someone had picked as a target the black car, sure that he would be
the one driving it. And Angie
was caught up in the middle of it. He didn't care about his personal safety; he could take care
of himself, and besides that he had a whole crew of men to back him up.
But now an innocent girl had been involved.
What was he going to do about that?
He dragged his hand through his hair, as the fury inside got
harder to hold. A young woman
he cared for had been hurt, caught up in a cat and mouse game of evil.
He slammed his hands
against the steering wheel just as he caught the headlights of the fire
engine in the rear view mirror. He
had dismissed the driver that had brought the car down to him, insisting
that he could handle the driving by himself.
He would not lose control now.
Finding her was the only priority.
Tires squealing, he slammed
to a halt at the Overlook, got out and ran back to the fire engine as it
pulled in behind him. "Get
your grappling equipment out. And
we'll need lights!" He
didn't have to add that in this dim moonlight seeing anything would be
difficult. Making matters
worse, ground fog was beginning to creep up the canyon.
He had to agree, the helicopters would have been useless.
Harry clenched his jaw and
shut his eyes for a moment. He
was glad that Lee and Chip weren't here. Both
weren't back yet from a fact-finding conference in San Diego. They would have been the first ones taking the risks, rushing
down the hillside oblivious of any and all dangers.
passenger door of the fire truck swung open.
"Admiral, I'm Captain Harding.
Got a message that the Santa Barbara engines will be here shortly.
What's the situation?"
filled him in on the scant details as he knew them. Captain Harding's eyes betrayed irritation at the lack of a
precise location. "So
the car went off somewhere between here and the water pipe?"
From Jordan's description, the other car waited where the pipe goes
under the road. He chased her
for only a minute or two before...before he forced her over the side of
the cliff. She never made it here."
is this again, sir? I didn't
get that part of the message. Somebody
at the Institute?"
took a deep breath, remembering all his training. "Angela Williams. My
Captain William's sudden stiffening posture revealed his surprise. "Angie? Good God, no. Manny!" He wheeled and double-timed it back to where his men were pulling equipment off the truck. "Drop that gear and get those lights set up! Everybody get a move on! It's Angie!"
* * * * *
A fluttering of eyelashes,
and she was awake. Sputtering,
spitting sand, Angie lay still, afraid to move for what she would find.
She tested her voice, swallowing, feeling the bruising constricting
her breathing. So
much for screaming my lungs out, she
thought unhappily. Of
course, that would have worked only if there was someone to hear.
No one else had been on the road.
Moving her head as little
as possible, cheek still pressed to the ground, she stared at her
surroundings from her gravel vantage point.
She could just make out the edge of the little creek, and reached
out a hand to touch the water. At
least she would have something to wet her lips.
Consciousness had brought
agony; every inch of her body was on fire, the pain especially coming from
her right leg. Grasping
aloud, grunting and then yelping, ignoring the bruises inside her throat,
Angie rolled herself over on her back.
The movement caused her shoulders and ribs to unite with the pain
in her leg in a fiery explosion. Fighting
against the nausea, she stared up at a patch of stars.
She could feel her fingers
and toes; she said a silent prayer for that.
There was something warm and wet on her right thigh.
Just as on her scalp, there was blood flowing from gashes in the
skin, but they did not seem too deep.
Exploring further, she realized that her skirt had been practically
torn away, and she could feel rends in the bodice and sleeves as well.
Everything was pretty much in tatters.
Depression crashed in upon her -- the new outfit had taken a good
chunk of her last pay check and no one had gotten to admire her in it.
Groaning in misery, she closed her eyes and squeezed out the sudden
release of moisture, and lay still.
time you're found
your chin on the ground
a lot to be learned
what makes that little old ant
he'll move that rubber tree plant
knows an ant, can't
a rubber tree plant.
he's got high hopes
got high hopes
got high apple pie
the sky hopes.
found herself mumbling out the words to the Frank Sinatra song.
She had just seen him on the Ed
Sullivan Show, promoting some other movie he was appearing in.
Sung in his smooth-as-silk voice, the words had been easy to
memorize. And now they were stuck in her head.
he had high hopes
had high hopes
had high apple pie
the sky hopes.
any time you're feelin' low, 'stead of lettin' go
remember that ant
there goes another rubber tree plant
there goes another rubber tree plant.
wanted to have high hopes. She
wanted to be like that little ant. But
the pain all over her body was becoming too intense to ignore.
It was pulsing now with every beat of her heart.
If she shifted to take the pressure off her shoulders her vision
swam from the pain in her leg. Which
was worse she couldn't say.
The gravel she was laying
on was still warm from the afternoon sun, but the fog was building,
creeping along the creek bed. The
heat would not last much longer. She
had to move somehow, find someplace to get out of the fog, its icy fingers
already stirring around her.
They'd find her.
They'd know something was wrong when she didn't come in to work.
It was just a matter of time.
She could hold out until then, she had to.
In the meantime, she'd think only good thoughts.
Everythin' would be okay.
Not everythin'. Everything
– she mentally corrected
herself. She had
worked hard to make the accent from growing up on an Arkansas farm go
away. Better to sound like
someone native to the land of palm trees and sunshine when making the
round of the studios and auditions. Didn't
everyone want to be a movie star, when they came to California?
That had been her reasoning for moving half way across country,
to stay first with her aunt and uncle.
Living in Santa Barbara, they were a heck of a lot closer to
Hollywood than Pine Bluff. And
shouldn't being named "Miss Little Rock" have been enough to get
her foot in the door? She had
quickly found it was not -- especially when some of the casting directors
she'd met wanted that little extra
something before they’d offer to help.
The little extra she wasn't willing to share with them no matter
what their promises. So back
to Santa Barbara it was, to admit defeat, pack up and go home. But her uncle knew people who knew people, and along came the
lucky chance to go to work at the old research lab down on the cliffs.
She'd taken secretarial skills and shorthand in high school, just
in case -- a girl needed a backup plan, after all.
And then Admiral Harriman Nelson had shown up, transforming the old
lab into a world-renowned research facility.
He was soon joined by the handsome lieutenant commander, the one
who was kindness and comfort and security all rolled into one.
Followed not so long ago by the dark-haired, handsome man who had
taken her breath away.
She'd think about them, not
where she was, or what had happened.
face, blurry and then sharply defined, slowly floated in front of her.
She had always been attracted to his blond good looks and blue eyes
and the grin that lightened the heaviest atmosphere.
How many times had he shown up with coffee and doughnuts first
thing in the morning, looking like he'd gotten ten hours of sleep, and
she'd found out he'd been working all night on some crazy problem that
wouldn't go away. Then there
were the days when he came into her office with arms full of paper,
complaining that Procurements was stalling on ordering parts for some
important system that was just absolutely necessary, and would she please
light a fire under 'em? How
many times had she heard him say that?
How many times did he brighten up her day when her desk was stacked
to the rafters with work? Far
too many for her to recall accurately right now.
His body in that uniform wasn't bad either, she thought.
Nice backside. That
particular image imprinted on her memory and despite everything, she
smiled. There had been a
spark between them from the first time they had met.
He had sent out a couple of feelers, but she had rebutted them
politely and been blunt in her explanation, sticking to her theory that
dating a coworker was never a good idea, even though making an exception
in his case was very, very tempting.
He had listened, and with a smile said he understood, while
assuring her that she always had a friend in him.
What had crystallized her decision was his devotion to his job and
his restlessness to be aboard Seaview
at every opportunity. The
odds against him being content to settle down to normal family life were
pretty high. Just like his
friend, the elusive Lee Crane.
Crane. She had been lost in
those eyes the minute she'd been introduced to them, those deep dark eyes
hidden behind thick lashes. She'd
have melted into a puddle, if it had been possible.
It had been a rough time when Captain Phillips had been killed and
-- she shuddered, and looked around her in the dark -- could this be this
same place? She damped that
terror down and went back to thinking of Lee, and how he had gained the
trust and admiration of a deeply resentful crew.
Now they would follow him anywhere.
She'd seen clearly how devoted he was to his job, just like Chip,
and how important it was to him that the people around him stayed safe.
That was the only chink in his ONI armor, she figured, his
commitment that no one else got hurt if he could stop it.
On those damn missions he went on, when no one could be sure he'd
come back alive or disappear in some god-forsaken jungle somewhere, she
knew that he put every ounce of fire that he had inside him to bring the
operation off successfully. If
that cost him a little bit of himself, it didn't show in the beautiful
smile he presented to the world. She
wouldn't have minded at all if that smile was meant only for her.
He didn't lack for female admirers -- but they were all doomed to
disappointment. Only Seaview
seemed to have his undivided attention.
of these days she figured she'd want to settle down, content to keep a
home for her husband and her children.
One of these days....
Maybe Charlie could change her mind; she wasn’t sure.
She didn't think he'd want her to continue working, seeming more
like the little wifey building a home type, and she wasn't
about to give up her challenging career, not yet at least.
But what about a life with Lee Crane or Chip Morton?
For both men, as much as she did not want to admit it, she'd have
to compete with a big grey submarine, and that was a losing proposition.
Besides, the admiral needed her.
Nobody else would be able to put up with how crotchety and
cantankerous he could be. Although
he had gotten better at it in her time there, not being one for giving
praise or positive reinforcement at every opportunity, she always knew
when he was happy with her work -- those bright blue eyes would sparkle
with gentle approval.
She shivered and swiveled
her head painfully from side to side.
To her right was the creek. It
was shallow at this spot, but of no use to her except when she got the
craving to moisten her lips. The
canyon was not quite so high on the Las Cruces side, but there would be no
climbing for her without help.
Steeling herself for the
inevitable surge of acute, mind-numbing discomfort, she gingerly pushed
off against the ground and rose up on her elbows. Her head swam
dangerously for a moment as she concentrated on seeing the world from a
less than horizontal position. Nothing
seemed to be broken, not even the leg that had smashed against the rocks
on her roller coaster ride to the bottom of the canyon.
She tested her ankles, and was rewarded with a sharp stab of pain
that made her cry out. Maybe
not broken, and she might be able to get up on them, but there would be no
walking long distances.
The gravel was cutting into
her legs and everything was starting to sting.
The back of her skirt probably looked pretty much like the front,
and it wasn't providing any protection against the elements. Camping in the Ozarks with her family had taught her plenty.
She had to get out of this exposed position, away from the wind
that was as irritating as the wounds and scratches she'd gotten.
Angie craned her head
around to the left, focusing on the bottom of the rock outcropping that
had served as the slide for her crazy descent.
One part of the rock looked darker than the rest.
She could barely make it out, but it looked like an opening, a cut
in the stone that she could possibly force her way into.
Slowly, painfully, she
worked her way around to her knees. A
foot or so ahead was a smooth flat rock that plopped like a pancake in
front of her. Taking a deep
breath, she began crawling forward, and immediately bumped her left ankle. The explosion of pain from the limb almost finished her off
there and then. Gasping for
air with her heart pounding, she inched towards the cleft in the rock.
It was further away than she thought, but there was no turning back
now she had started the attempt to move.
As she got closer her initial impression proved correct -- it would
be wide enough, if she turned her shoulders slightly.
She would have to back in, but it would provide some shelter
against the elements.
Turning around, pushing back with her hands and backside, and tearing what was left of her skirt, she slid between the stone sides, straightening her legs out before her. Letting the tears fall at last, the pounding of her heart and the excruciating stabs of pain subsiding, Angie leaned sideways, the warmth of the rock giving her some comfort at least.
* * * * *
Up above, about a half mile away, Harry was deep in conversation with the fire department personnel. A blaring siren coming closer and closer announced the arrival of Jordan and the Santa Barbara Fire Department.
a trail here, Admiral Nelson. It's
narrow and rocky, but it goes down to the canyon floor.
We can get a gurney down there.
I'll send my best men down. We'll
do the best we can, sir."
know, Captain. I'm going with
that's not a good idea, it's going to be almost impossible to see--"
no, no!" Harry cried, throwing up his hands, whole face screwed up in
a grimace. "Don't even
think you'd go down there without me!"
Harding had heard about the famous Nelson temper. Now he'd seen it up close and personal. "Whatever you say, sir. Ross! Tanner!"
crewmembers detached themselves from the men clustered around the lights
and hurried to where Nelson and Harding were standing.
a gurney and start down there. Admiral
Nelson's going with you. If--"
Behind him, Harry growled ominously.
"--When you find
her, shoot off a flare. I'll
send Santa Barbara down to the pipeline.
They can see what they can do from there.
Good luck, gentlemen," he said, shaking the admiral's hand.
took only a few seconds for the trio to find the trailhead.
Their flashlights revealed a narrow space, the rocks that formed
the boundary painted white. That would be something, at least. But the steps were slippery, covered with moss and other
debris. Harry kept his eyes
on the ground. It would do no
good to have another accident happen.
was still impossible to believe he was hurrying to find Angie.
Just over an hour ago she'd been fine.
He thought he had done her a favor by giving up the keys to the
well had that turned out, Harry?
was he in this thing? Up to
his neck. Up to his neck in
caring about her, little as he did to show it.
He couldn't just gush over people -- he was an admiral, damn it!
Not even over a young, pretty girl who treated him like her father.
Any anger he'd felt at her little remark as she'd left the first
time -- don't think I didn't notice
it -- had disappeared
when he remembered the quirky smile on her face.
Behind that smile was a will of iron, but at the same time she had
always seemed so – delicately
female was the only description that came to mind.
How would he find her now? His
foot slipped, and he caught himself from falling.
Now was not the time to be thinking dark thoughts.
He needed to keep his mind on the mission, not on what he could
find when he got to the canyon bottom.
trail petered out a third of the way down and all three men stood
on a minute." Harry
paused, getting his bearings. "She's
got to be below us. Those
trees ahead are thick enough to hide a car wreck and we'd never have seen
anything from the road. Let's
try finding our way through."
There may have been a trail to the bottom, but no one had been on this stretch of canyon for a long time. Harry regretted not having a machete to hack his way through the broken tree branches and brush that threatened to bar his way. They were making slow but steady progress, traveling down the steep slope for about twenty minutes when Harry ducked and broke through a heavy stand of sage. The aromatic shrub filled his senses while their broken stems tore at his uniform, snagging on the khaki. One of the firemen grunted behind him. Harry figured he'd run into the same obstacle he had.
was something else on the air. Oil
car!" Both firemen
shouted at once.
was just ahead of them, stuck against large boulders. Harry stumbled forward and went around the front bumper, then
brought himself up abruptly, the rocks under his feet skittering down the
rock face that fell away below the car.
it!" he yelled. He
turned and saw that the passenger door was open.
"One of you get around and look over the driver's side!"
there, sir. She's not in the
car," the fireman said, incredulity in his voice.
in the---?" Harry shone
his flashlight at the rocks underneath him.
There were marks on the rock face, and yards below, he could see a
break in the canopy of brush, the white flash of broken branches.
"Down there, she's somewhere down there!
Can anybody see a way down?"
sir!" One of the
firemen, Ross had backtracked a few feet.
He was pointing downward at another break in the rocks.
man. Let's get going.
You and I will go down there.
You--" He pointed at Tanner.
"Get back up there and bring more men down with ropes.
We can belay the gurney from here."
it, Admiral." Tanner
turned and started back the way they'd come.
then pointed at Ross. "Get
the gurney and came along with me."
sir!" Ross answered immediately.
He'd been in the Navy and recognized a superior’s order when he
carefully, side slipping but never enough to cause trouble, the two men
made it down to the creek bottom, the fog parting around them.
Harry stopped and held up a hand.
He had expected to hear noises, maybe crickets or frogs, but never
in his wildest imagination had he expected to hear a song, a song being
sung in a scratchy off key voice. His heart lightening, he hurried
any time you're feelin' bad, stead of feelin' sad
remember that ram
there goes a billion kilowatt dam
there goes a billion kilowatt dam.
She had started on another chorus when Harry
popped around the corner of the rock and found her.
Angie, honey, it's me." Harry
dropped to his knees and put his hand on her shoulder.
She started and stifled a scream. Her mouth settled in a tremulous line, determination fighting
with the pain. Blinking, her
head swaying slightly back and forth, Angie answered weakly, "Hi,
Admiral. Was I hard to
"Piece of cake," he said, ignoring his
ruined uniform. "Angie,
we've got to shoot off this flare. I
need everybody to know where we are."
"No problem, sir.
I'm pretty much past caring about anything at the moment."
He gestured to Ross, who stepped a few feet away
and shot off the flare gun. The
sudden burst of light gave Harry an opportunity to take a closer look at
her, and the sight appalled him. She
was covered in dirt, the blood on her head turning a dark brown, the
bloodstains on her tattered clothing reflected in the bloody wounds on
exposed skin. Noticing his scrutiny, Angie pulled what remained of her
blouse closer together. The
simple gesture inflamed the anger still boiling inside him.
He did not want to frighten her, however, and so he adopted a soft
tone when he asked, "Do you think that anything's broken, lass?"
She brightened at the use of the familiar
nickname. "I don't think
so, sir. But my ankles are
sprained. And I'm banged up
all over. Other than that, right as rain.
Well, except that I'm pretty sure I look like I've been rode hard
and put away wet." She
put a shaky hand to her forehead. "Is
it very bad, sir? Am I going
to need a whole bunch of sewing up?"
"Not at all, honey.
There's a few cuts along your hairline, but if they take more than
a couple of stitches, I'll be surprised."
He looked around, wondering at how she was wedged inside the
opening. "How do you
manage to get in here, Angie?"
over there somewhere, sir."
Harry turned, and swept his flashlight across the
rock. For the first time he
noticed the bloodstains, the little spots showing up dark and wet that
marked her progress across the rock.
Crawling must have been agonizing.
His jaw clenched, and the light from the flashlight fluttered back
and forth as he fought to control his emotions.
"It's all over now, Angie. I've got a fireman here, we'll get you on the gurney.
If I take your shoulders and lift you up--"
"NO!" she croaked in alarm.
"No, sir. Not yet." She
moved the hand she'd been using to cradle her elbow and crooked a finger.
"C'mere, sir. I don't want everybody and his brother to hear me."
He moved as close as
he could. "We're all by
ourselves, Angie. Tell
"Admiral," she whispered, "when I
fell down wherever I fell, I tore my skirt.
It's split every which ways. So,"
and here she shuddered, every word an effort, "everything's all torn,
I can tell. I am relying on
you to have a blanket ready, sir. My
dignity's 'bout the only thing I'm worried for at the moment, and I trust
you to honor my wishes."
"I wouldn't give me so much credit, young
lady. I got you into this
place -- but I can definitely do this one little thing for you, to get you
out." He gestured at the
fireman standing close by, and Ross wordlessly handed over a blanket.
"Let me wrap this one around you from the front, and when I
pick you up, I'll have another."
He reached for another blanket, and it was obligingly put into his
"I'm not going to be able to walk, sir.
Besides what I've done to my legs, everything's gone to
sleep." Her voice was becoming very hoarse.
Harry helped her put the blanket over the front of
her dress, careful to avoid the worst of the gashes on her thighs.
"This is going to be a tight squeeze, Angie. I'm going
to have to pull you out a bit and then lift you under the arms.
You're going to have to hold on very tight."
Harry stopped still, astonishment filling his
features, and put his head down so she wouldn't see the enormous grin on
"I'm sorry, sir, that kinda just slipped out.
I don't know that I know what I'm saying anymore...."
"No apology necessary, lass," Harry said
in mock seriousness. He understood, now, the fierce protectiveness he felt
for this girl, a feeling he would never allow himself to forget.
She looked up at him, mouth quivering, tears
filling her eyes and glistening in the moonlight.
"I am sure sorry
that I wrecked your car."
Harry leaned over and kissed her on her forehead.
"Thank God for that car, Angie.
It saved your life. Here
we go, then."
Mercifully, she fainted as soon as he put her on the gurney.
* * * * *
His head falling off his fist, Harry woke with a
start. Moving awkwardly, he
shifted around in the hard chair and looked around.
He had fallen asleep in Angie's hospital room.
Dawn was creeping in through the blinds, throwing pale yellow
stripes across the floor.
The trip to the medical center had only taken a
few minutes. They had gotten
her out of the ambulance and into intensive care immediately.
Then the medical staff had taken over, throwing him out of the
room. Harry had paced the
hallway until Will Jamieson, NIMR's CMO showed up and settled everything.
Still, they hadn't let him in to be with her until she was fast
A tall figure opened the door and stepped up to
the hospital bed. Jamie
picked up Angie's wrist and checked her pulse.
"You are going to need surgery if you don't
get up from that chair," he said, not looking up.
"We've stabilized her legs, cleaned up all the wounds and made
her comfortable. She's asleep
and it's six in the morning. Go
I intend to be here when she wakes up."
"That'll be hours from now, Harry."
He looked Nelson up and down.
"You're a mess. Think
Angie wants to see you like this?"
"So now you're a
fashion critic?" Harry growled.
Jamie adopted a serious look. "Angie's going to be fine.
Don't go soft on us, Admiral.
It's isn't necessary."
Harry leaped from the chair and drew himself up to his full height.
The color of his red hair began to blend in with the flush creeping
up his face. "How the
hell do you figure that, Dr. Jamieson?"
Jamie's smile came back.
"Got you up out of the chair, didn't it? Go home, get some rest and come back."
would be for the best, Harry thought.
He really was a mess. And
it would give him some time to come to grips with all that had happened. "I'll do it your way -- just this once.
But if I want to worry just a bit about a wonderful young girl,
indulge me. It doesn't happen
often." Harry walked
over to stand by the bed. "What
am I going to do about this, Jamie?"
Jamie scrutinized his old friend. They had been though a lot together, and the end was nowhere
in sight. Having known him
for so long, Jamie recognized how very good he was at hiding his feelings.
They were allowed to slip in, in little dribs and drabs, only when
very few people could see them and appreciate what was happening.
That is how Harriman Nelson coped.
Jamie was suddenly tired himself.
"We're fighting a deadly foe that will stop
at nothing. Angie got caught
up in that. Sure, she found
out the hard way. I realize
you'd be in here keeping an eye on Lee or Chip, if something had happened
to them. You wouldn't rest
until they were out of danger. But
she's okay. I'll see
you back here in a couple of hours.
That's an order."
Harry looked at Jamie in silent amused appraisal,
one eyebrow raised, and then his focus shifted to Angie. She was sleeping peacefully, one arm across the sheets. Small
bandages covered the stitches on her head.
He felt a tiny sliver of heart beat as her placed a light hand on
her shoulder, then lifted it away to draw the back of it softly across her
cheek. The dirt had been
wiped away, and she looked and smelled clean and fresh.
Never had the scent of soap been so comforting.
"Take care of
The door closed softly behind him.
* * * * *
"Mind if I come
Charlie Gibbons the
lower part of his face hidden by a huge banquet of flowers, materialized
in the doorway. Angie, shocked, looked over at her other
visitors, the ones that had been there when she'd awakened.
The smiles on Lee and Chip's faces became guarded, and they stood
I can't believe you're here!"
"I read about the accident in the newspaper.
I came as soon as I could."
He stepped into the room and stood awkwardly at the foot of the
bed, shifting on his feet. "I just wanted to come by and see how you
She looked back and forth between the three men,
savoring the moment. Then
manners stepped back in. "Charlie,
this is Lee Crane, the captain and Chip Morton, executive officer of Seaview. Gentlemen,
Charlie Gibbons, a friend of mine.
He was in the class I just finished at the university."
The three of them
shook hands, Charlie shifting the flowers around.
"Uh, I'll just put these down on the
table," he said, then turned and picked up her hand.
Impulsively, one eye on Lee and Chip, he leaned over and kissed
her. "How are you doing,
Taken aback, Angie sobered, thinking back to her
rescue. Pretty much the last
thing she remembered was feeling Admiral Nelson's body vibrating with the
screams she was forcing into his shoulder as he gently shifted her into
the gurney. The firemen had
done everything they could to make her comfortable, but every moment had
been agonizing. She had
fainted as soon as they had started upward.
That had been last night. Today
she had woken up from sleep to find herself being attended by two of the
handsomest men in town.
"I'm doing just
"I was upset when you didn't make our dinner
date," Charlie said, his face darkening for a moment.
"I waited all evening. I couldn’t believe you would just not
come. Most people would have
the courtesy to at least call and cancel," he added censoriously.
"Well, I was a little busy, I guess you
figured that out, Charlie," Angie answered while Lee and Chip
exchanged "he can't be serious" looks.
"Oh, yes, of course, honey, I understand that
now. I just wanted to come by
and see you for myself and tell you that I've talked to my father. There's an opening for a receptionist at the office, and I'd
be happy to recommend you as soon as you’re well again."
Momentarily at a loss for words, she stared at the
earnest-eyed young man holding her hand, determined not to notice how Chip
and Lee were staring at him with cold disdain.
After all, Charlie had brought her a nice bouquet of flowers.
Charlie was tall -- but not as tall as Chip and
Lee. His expensive business
suit fit perfectly on his angular body -- but there the captain and
executive officer of the Seaview
stood in their uniform khakis. His
smile was broad and expansive -- but the grins on Chip and Lee's faces had
him beat by a mile.
"Well, that's very nice of you,
Charlie," Angie replied, "but I don't have any intention of
leaving my job at the Institute. Whatever
gave you the idea I would?"
His eyebrows shot up.
"I just assumed that after, you know, being in a terrible car
accident you’d naturally see that this is not something a young woman
such as yourself should be involved in.
You definitely need something safer."
Her eyes locked on the two men that brightened her
life every day. "I
assure you, Charlie, that my safety has never been in question.
The accident was just that, an accident."
"But the paper
said you'd been deliberately pushed off the road!"
"Lordy, it was just a bad driver!"
There was no need to confirm any of the details -- not to this
fellow. "That road can
be very tricky. Trust me, I'm
safer at the Institute than any place I know."
She waved her free hand at Chip and Lee.
"After all, I've got an entire submarine filled with men to
"But this job,
it's a good one, you'd be working for me, and---"
"--I surely do appreciate the offer, but I'll
Angie removed her hand from his grasp and placed
it across her forehead. When
had he earned the right to call
her honey? "You know, I'm feeling a bit tired at the moment.
Maybe you could come back at another time?" she said, letting
her voice quiver just a bit.
"Uh, sure, I guess." Charlie stole a
glance at the waiting officers and he saw them harden their posture as
they observed him.
His expression told her this was not what he had
expected to hear. Poor Charlie, she thought. What
an old stick in the mud you are!
"I'll just leave the flowers for now.
Nice meeting you gentlemen," he said, nodding at Lee and Chip.
"Angie, give me a call when you're feeling better.
We can set up that dinner date you missed."
Not in a million years.
"Thanks for coming by, Charlie."
He backed awkwardly out of the room, missing the
doorknob and spinning around to grasp it.
With a half-hearted wave he was gone.
"That's the last
you'll see of him, Angie," Chip said.
To Angie's great delight, he said it in such a way
that made her wonder if there was more meaning behind his words.
"Working for him, that'll be the day!
He’s a sweet man but not quite what I thought on closer
acquaintance. Isn’t it said that in a crisis you know who your true
friends are? I’m sure he
meant well but it shows he didn’t really know me at all.
'Oh, poor little Angela, she'll be all scared, she'll need a new
What happened - just happened.
I'm fine, just a little banged up is all."
X-rays had revealed no broken bones, just two
severely sprained ankles. The
aches and pains were settling, fading along with the black and blue
bruises from top to bottom. Whatever
guardian angels followed Angela Williams around worked overtime that
"I'm glad to hear you say that," Lee
replied. "We stopped in
to see the admiral before we came over here.
He's really taking this hard, Angie."
He didn't mention that he had found Admiral Nelson
in one of the darkest moods he'd ever seen.
They had discovered the news when he and Chip had driven up
to the gate. Reaching the
admiral at his apartment, where he'd gone to change his clothes before
going back to the hospital, they had had a long conversation.
Lee would remember the last thing the admiral had said:
"We need to find these bastards and eliminate them, Lee.
They've made a very big mistake attacking the people around
Angie thumped the bed with both hands.
"Oh, the old so and so! I
suppose he thinks it would have been better if he'd been the one driving
the car? If I wasn't in this
hospital bed he'd be getting a piece of my mind!"
Grinning at Lee, Chip,
said, "Is that the Arkansas farm girl talking?"
If he was here right now the Admiral would hear me cussin' a blue
What's this about cussing?"
All three of them looked toward the door.
Harry stood there, a curious smile on his face, a gigantic bouquet
of pink roses in his hands. He walked toward her and set the vase on the chart table as
Chip and Lee moved respectfully aside.
"Ohhh... pink roses, my favorite," Angie
breathed, and then the fire began to blaze in her eyes.
"But don't think that will get you out of this one, Admiral!
I'm too much of a lady to come out with it, sir, but you'll be
hearing from me in the future if you don't drop this nonsense that somehow
you're responsible for my accident! When
you find that crystal ball that tells you what's going to happen, you let
me know, okay? Until then, I don't want to hear another word about it. In
the meantime if you will please arrange for work to be brought here to the
hospital until I can return to my desk, I can keep things running smoothly
and even finish taking notes on the report we were doin.'
Then I'll have Cynthia type them up and every--what's the
quite finished?" Harry asked, turning to Lee and Chip. All three men smiled with contentment. This was the Angie they had all come to love and admire.
sir, there's work to do! That
"That report is the last thing I'm worried
about right now. Young Dr.
Sagara is going to do the whole damn thing over.
And I think we can manage to muddle through until you get back. We just need you to get better and come back into the office
when you’re ready."
"What was that,
Admiral? Who needs me?"
It was a moment before he could trust his voice.
Then Harry said gruffly, "Damn it, I do."
Angie reached out and placed her hand over his. "Thank you, sir," she said. "That's all I needed to hear."
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