High Hopes

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 boring you?" 

Great, 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.  Go ahead."

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!" 

"I'll be 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 know, sir...:"

"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, lass?"

"No sir!"  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 gratefully.

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.

"Nelson here."

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?  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 Nelson?"

"Jordan?  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."

"Oh, sure.  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 of it!"

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?"

"The Overlook?  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 else."

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 that."

"It's not a he, it's a woman, Jordan.  My secretary was driving that car."

"Your secretary?  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 down."

Harry steeled himself to ask the next question.  "No explosion?"

"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 canyon... 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. 

Angie... 

Security.   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.

* * * * *

 

With 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 car.  

"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.  

The memory exploded in on her brain. 

The other car coming out of nowhere...

                                                     ...smashing 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 her eyes. 

"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.  Again.  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.

The 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?"

Harry 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?"

"Yes.  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."

"Who is this again, sir?  I didn't get that part of the message.  Somebody at the Institute?"

Harry took a deep breath, remembering all his training.  "Angela Williams.  My secretary."

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.

Next time you're found

With your chin on the ground

There's a lot to be learned

So look around.

 

Just what makes that little old ant

Think he'll move that rubber tree plant

Anyone knows an ant, can't

Move a rubber tree plant.

 

But he's got high hopes

He's got high hopes

He's got high apple pie

In the sky hopes.

Angie 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. 

'Cause he had high hopes

He had high hopes

He had high apple pie

In the sky hopes.

 

So any time you're feelin' low, 'stead of lettin' go

Just remember that ant

Oops there goes another rubber tree plant

Oops there goes another rubber tree plant.

She 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. 

Chip's 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. 

Lee 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.

One 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. 

"There's 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."

"I know, Captain.  I'm going with them."

"Sir, that's not a good idea, it's going to be almost impossible to see--"

"No, 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!"

Two crewmembers detached themselves from the men clustered around the lights and hurried to where Nelson and Harding were standing. 

"Get 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.

It 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.

It 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 car.  How well had that turned out, Harry?   

Where 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.

The trail petered out a third of the way down and all three men stood uncertainly.

"Which way, Admiral?" 

"Hang 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.

There was something else on the air.  Oil and....

"The car!"  Both firemen shouted at once.

It 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.

"Watch 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!" 

"Nothing there, sir.  She's not in the car," the fireman said, incredulity in his voice.

"Not 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?"

"Here, sir!"  One of the firemen, Ross had backtracked a few feet.  He was pointing downward at another break in the rocks.

"Good, 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."

"Got it, Admiral."  Tanner turned and started back the way they'd come.

Harry then pointed at Ross.  "Get the gurney and came along with me."

"Yes, sir!" Ross answered immediately.  He'd been in the Navy and recognized a superior’s order when he heard one!

Walking 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 forward.

So any time you're feelin' bad, stead of feelin' sad

Just remember that ram

Oops there goes a billion kilowatt dam

Oops 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!  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 find?"

"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?"

"Crawled from 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 me."

"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 hand. 

"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."

"Sir, if we were any closer together already, my daddy would a made us get married!"

Harry stopped still, astonishment filling his features, and put his head down so she wouldn't see the enormous grin on his face. 

"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 asleep.

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 home."

"No.  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."

"Soft?"  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."

Maybe it 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 her, Jamie."

The door closed softly behind him.

 

* * * * *

 

"Mind if I come in?"

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 up.

"Charlie!    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 were." 

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, dear?"

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 fine, now." 

"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 protect me." 

"But this job, it's a good one, you'd be working for me, and---"

"--I surely do appreciate the offer, but I'll be fine."

"But honey--"

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 job.'  Please.  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 night.

"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 me!"

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?"

"You bet!  If he was here right now the Admiral would hear me cussin' a blue streak!"

"Young lady!  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 matter?"

"Are you 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. 

"But sir, there's work to do!  That report--"

"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."

 

 

 

  High Hopes, Copyright 1959 by Sincap Productions, Inc.

Written by Jimmy Van Heusen, music by Sammy Cahn

 

 

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