Sound Effects

by

Sherlockette

 

 

 

 

This story follows Contingencies. Special thanks to Liz for her very helpful beta. Thanks also to Sue O. for the early feedback.

****

"Take that one into the other room while I work on this one."

After watching the two fatigue-clad men dragged their captive down the hallway and out of sight, the tall blonde in the white lab coat stood in the doorway of the tiny soundproof room and stared at the ruggedly handsome man still pinioned to the small bed inside. "You and I have such a connection. Such a pity things couldnít be different. Perhaps in another time and in another place we would be lovers. I am so attracted to smart, powerful men." Grinning evilly, she leaned over and scraped one long fingernail along his chin line then lifted the headset from its hook over the bed, placed it tightly over his ears and fastened the chin strap. Before stepping from the room she blew him a kiss.

Once she took her seat at the control console, the woman flipped the master switch and turned several dials until the gauge registered the desired output. Still under the effects of the previous "treatment" delivered by the doctor, the man could only shake his head in a weak attempt to dislodge the headset. Once the pulses began he was suddenly unable to think clearly and he no longer had the energy to fight. As he sank into oblivion his last thoughts were of his friends, his work andÖwater, lots of water.

 

*****

 

Commander Lee Crane, captain of the famous submarine Seaview and part-time agent for the Office of Naval Intelligence returned to his hotel room to clean up and change prior to dining with his CO and designer of the Seaview, Admiral Harriman Nelson and his XO and friend, Chip Morton. The three men were attending an acoustic sciences conference in a new resort on the coast of South Carolina and were hoping to use the information they gained to design a new sonar system for the sub. Unbeknownst to Chip, Lee and the admiral were also using the trip to covertly investigate two of the scientists who were presenting their research at the conference.

Earlier in the day Lee had made arrangements to eat a late lunch with his friends so in preparation he showered, shaved and slipped into a dark casual suit. He then sat reviewing some intelligence documents that Nelson had given him upon their arrival at the hotel. At 1830 hours, three hours past the time Lee was to have met with the admiral and Chip, he found himself pacing the floor of his hotel room. He might expect Nelson to be involved in longwinded conversations when he was around other scientists but the situation they were investigating was too serious for his CO to have wavered significantly from their schedule. Besides, if Nelson had been temporarily sidetracked Chip would have contacted him to advise that the two would be late. The admiral had brought along one of the new miniature two way radios they had developed for Leeís undercover work but repeated attempts to contact Nelson had proved futile; he heard nothing but static each time he tried. No, something is definitely wrong he thought. Distractedly he picked up the remote control for the TV and clicked over to the news. He had been only half listening, but one story caught his full attention.

"Late today two bodiesÖ. discoveredÖ in Wassaw Sound. Channel 3 News reporter Cecily Jones Ösouth of the soundÖCecily joins us on the phoneÖ"

"Thanks, Brinks. From what weíve been told by the G. B. I., the agency overseeing the investigation, the bodies of two men were found washed ashore this afternoon just south of my location in the Wassaw Sound. The bodies were reportedly found by two children out collecting driftwood. The authorities refused to identify the men but confirmed for us that both were dressed in naval officerís uniforms. The cause of death has not been determined so weíll have to await autopsy reports before we can bring that information to you. Reporting from South PierÖ"

With his stomach churning, Lee stood staring at the television hoping that more information was forthcoming. Receiving no answers he switched channels only to find their reporter had the same basic information. He didnít want to jump to any conclusions but it was difficult to not at least consider the possibility that harm had come to his friends. A sudden knock at his door elicited a smile and he jumped to open it. "I was going to send out a search party forÖ"

Instead of being greeted by the admiral and Chip he was confronted by three men in military fatigues each aiming a pistol at him. The oldest of the party gave the orders.

"Commander Crane, youíre coming with us. We have some questions for you! Turn around and put your hands behind your head."

Knowing he was both cornered and outnumbered, Lee complied. As he was handcuffed roughly behind his back and thoroughly searched he wondered if the news report was true and it was his friends had been found dead. He gave nothing away to his captors and peppered them with his own questions. "Who are you? Whatís this about?"

The older man spoke again "ONI. You know why weíre here. Itís about your admiral."

"What happened to him?"

"Thatís what we want you to tell us!"

 

****

 

From his half-reclined position in the back seat of a car, Lee couldnít read any road signs to let him know where he was being taken. All he could see were the outlines of the live oak trees draped in Spanish moss that lined the road. Backlit by the rising half-moon, the dark figures reminded him of old men with beards. Lee couldnít help but shift his thoughts back to his missing friends and his own OOM, Admiral Nelson. Leeís most recent conversation with the admiral had been outside the auditorium of the convention center. It had been a very short, upbeat one, and Lee now hoped it had not been their last.

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"Okay Lee, weíll see you in a few hours," said the admiral as he cocked his head and wagged his finger. "And donít get into any troubleÖthatís an order!"

Lee put his hands up and shrugged his shoulders. "Sir, Iím just going to visit some vendors. What trouble could there be in that?"

"Our exec here suggested we change your middle initial from a ĎBí to a ĎTí as in trouble. I am inclined to agree considering how things seem to go sometimes."

Lee pursed his lips and squinted in mock anger.

The huge smile that broke out on Chipís face caused the captain to smile just as broadly.

"Just be careful, Lee," whispered Nelson as he patted the captainís elbow.

Lee nodded then watched as Chip held the door for the admiral and the two men entered the room.

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Back in the moment Lee asked repeatedly about the status of both the admiral and Chip but his captors revealed nothing. Thirty minutes after the guards had knocked at his door the four arrived at the Parris Island Marine Training Center and he was ordered out of the car, which he did with some difficulty. His shackles rattled as he waddled into the barracks, where he was stripped, searched again and given a jumpsuit and thong sandals to wear. He was then put into the cell out of sight of any other detainees.

Lee paced as much as he was able in the limited space of his holding cell, stopping occasionally to look out the narrow glass port and to pound on the door hoping to attract the attention of his guards. Finally deciding that his attempts at contact were futile and he would be questioned when they decided it was time, he sat down on the bench. Running his hands through his hair he thought about the admiral and Chip. In fact, he could think of little else. Something bad must have happened to his friends and sitting in a cell on the Marine base was not getting him anywhere close to discovering the truth.

As Lee rested his elbows on his knees, clasped his hands and stared at the cell door, the events of the previous days began to replay in his mind. He had arrived at his office at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research on Friday at 0730 to find a rather large hand printed note on his desk that read "See him ASAP". He had followed the "order" left by Angie, Admiral Nelsonís super efficient executive assistant and had immediately walked down the hall to the admiralís office suite. He had knocked on the door to the inner office and upon hearing the usual grunted "Come" he had entered.

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"You asked to see me, Admiral?"

"Yes, Lee. Close the door and have a seat."

Lee sat down and watched the admiral as he stood staring out the large picture window that overlooked the bay. Finally Nelson turned, made brief pause at his desk to grind out his cigarette and looked down at Lee. "I want to let you know about this to keep the air clear between us."

Lee frowned. "Sir, is something wrong?"

"I received a message from ONI. They wanted you for an assignment. I told them no. Here read it." Nelson pulled an envelope from under the corner of his desk blotter and handed it to the captain.

Naval intelligence officer [Forde] was found dead in the apartment of a foreign agent. Indications are that he was acting in a dual capacity. Death was likely result of new brainwashing technique. Need op unknown to target with NOC* to infiltrate. What is Craneís availability?

As he finished reading the message, Lee was practically shaking with anger. He knew agent Forde and had a hard time believing that the man would betray everything he stood for.

"Lee, are you all right?"

Lee ignored Nelsonís question about his wellbeing and instead responded with one of his own. "Admiral, why did you say no?"

Nelson pulled out the pack of cigarettes and the lighter from his shirt pocket and lit up. He took a long drag before finally answering his captain. "Which answer do you prefer this time? Because you are too valuable to risk? Because youíve done your share of missions this year? Because they have plenty of agents to choose from? Because they donít give a flip if you come back or not? Or, how about that it isnít what I pay you for? Take your pick."

Lee was undeterred by the admiralís arguments. He had heard them countless times before. He was sure they were Nelsonís way of trying to protect him but he couldnít let that concern stop him from what he knew needed to be done.

"Sir, someone kidnapped, brainwashed and killed one of our intelligence officers. Agents are well-trained, smart peopleÖand not easily fooled."

"I know Lee, but you know through experience even the best can be caught in the trap."

Lee knew the admiral was right, but it didnít stop him from slapping the desk. "They will try it again and you know it! No one is safe. Donít you think we should find out how they did it and put a stop to it?" Lee watched as Nelsonís notorious temper began to rise. He was prepared for what followed.

"If it were only that easy, Lee!" Nelson practically shouted. "Do you actually think that one man can make a difference in that arena? There are peopleÖgovernments, throughout the world working full time to develop new ways to get secrets to one up the next man. TheyĎll stop at nothing Önothing. If I thought they put some systems in place to track their agents and back them up, I might consider it but after whatís happenedÖto youÖ"

"So you wonít let me go just to protect me? Admiral IÖ"

"Itís already been decided. Besides, I have something elseÖ"

At that moment a crisp knock on the door interrupted their discussion. Nelson gave the call to enter and Chip Morton opened the door and stepped inside. He held a piece of paper in his hand and waved it. "You needed to see me, sir?"

"Yes, Chip, have a seat."

Chip nodded to both men, slid into the other chair across from Nelsonís desk and looked on expectantly.

Nelson turned to face Lee and shook his head slightly, an indication he did not want to involve Chip in their conversation about ONI. Lee nodded that he understood. He knew well that his XO and friend had a negative opinion of ONI missions and he didnít want him to be sidetracked or to start on a long tirade.

Nelson kept his eye on Lee as he spoke. "I want us to attend the annual Acoustics Sciences Conference. Itís being held in a new resort on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Tom Shaw called to tell me he would be going and I thought it would be a good trip."

Lee was very interested in acoustics as it related to sonar and hydrophone operation but he was worried that he might get caught spending days listening to lectures on boring esoteric subjects. While he appreciated applied science, he was not one to sit around and discuss science theory as the admiral was wont to do. "Sir?" he inquired. "Is it a science or military conference?"

"Both, donít you think? Lee, there have been great advances in the field of echolocation as it relates to sonar and as youíve seen recently a good system can make a big difference in how effective we are at doing our jobs, both scientifically and militarily. It never hurts to see whatís on the cutting edge, or to understand the science thatís behind it."

"No, sir, I guess not." Realizing he was not showing Nelson appropriate support Leeís next question was more upbeat. "So Admiral, when do we go?"

"As soon as arrangements are made. The conference begins on Tuesday." The admiral snubbed his cigarette then turned to Chip. "See to it that the flying sub is made ready and we have a place to berth her and someplace to stay when we get there."

"Yes, sir. How long do you and Lee anticipate being there?"

"Oh, Chip, youíre going too. OíBrien can finish up with the repairs to Seaview. Iíd like you to meet Shaw since you didnít get the chance on the last cruise. I think youíll find him quite knowledgeable."

Chip nodded and waited for the admiral to continue.

Nelson managed a brief smile. "And so you also donít think itís a waste of your timeÖLee and I have discussed it and we think itís time for an upgrade to our sonar systems and we need you to spearhead the project."

Though he never said a word, Lee could tell that his friendís mind had shifted into overdrive. Chip certainly loved new technology and though professing to not be scientists, both he and Lee were extremely knowledgeable of the science behind every instrument on board the sub.

Surprising neither of his commanding officers, Chip gave his typically stoic response. "Aye, sir, sounds good. How many days?"

"Make plans for five." Handing a brochure for the conference to Chip he continued. "Hereís the schedule. See which sessions interest you. We can talk about it over the next couple of days."

Chip took the brochure and nodded then rose. "Sir, if thereís nothing else, Iíll get right on this."

The admiral shook his head. "No, thatís it, Chip."

Chip left the room, closing the door behind him. Within seconds the senior officers heard what sounded like a whoop and turned to each other and smiled.

"So Lee, do you think our exec is happy?"

"I suspect if he were not a gentleman, he would be doing cartwheels on the lawn. No, heíll make the most of it. Even your head will spin when he gets started on this project."

"Iím quite sure of that," replied Nelson with a grin. There was a momentary silence as both officers thought about their earlier heated exchange.

"LeeÖ"

The admiralís hesitation was not lost on Lee. "Admiral, whatís really bothering you?"

Nelson stood up abruptly, forcefully pushing his chair backward. He ran a hand through his hair then stuck both hands in his pockets and began to pace behind his desk. It took a few minutes for him to respond to the captain. "Damn it, Lee. Itís not just the Peopleís Republic this time. Some of ONIís own rogue agents are involvedÖalong with some of our leading scientists."

Lee was incredulous. "Youíre kidding!" He rose and turned away trying to get a grip on his emotions. He managed to stop himself from slamming his fist into the nearby wall but he paced furiously in front of the admiralís desk. Suddenly he stopped and faced his CO and began to twist the ring on his left hand, a sure sign he was stressed.

"Iím well-known here in the States and Iím no research scientist. Why would ONI want me for a domestic mission?"

"They wanted you to hide in plain sight. ONI claims the agents involved never worked with you and even though I have met the scientists I donít know them all that well. Marie Teller and Martin ReeceÖthe scientists in question, are specialists in acousticsÖ and theyíll be speaking at the conference.

Leeís eyes widened and his mouth dropped open.

"I thought if we attended it would make a good cover. IĎll be there as a distraction so you can move around and check out whatís happening behind the scenes."

"So youíre going to say yes to ONI?"

"Not exactly, Iíll let them know what I decide once we get there after youíve done some reconnaissance."

Harriman Nelson at a conference will always draw the attention of the wrong types of people, Lee thought to himself. "Sir, donít you think you are too well knownÖthat you might be at risk?í

"Phhhtttt. My being there wonít draw as much attention as if ONI sent in agents who have no real business at the conference. Iíve been to a few meetings where the only people there were spies. We are still going to check out some new technology to apply to our sonar. Besides, Chip will be with me for security and his presence makes your cover all that more convincing."

As he sat back down Lee recalled a recent conversation he had with Chip about his being left out of the loop on too many occasions. He was not about to betray his friendís confidence but he was concerned. "Speaking of Chip, what are you going to tell him?"

"Nothing right now. If it turns out there is something to this, Iíll tell him what he needs to know."

"Sir, I know he fights me on these assignments but donít you think we should at leastÖ"

Nelson interrupted. "He knows and accepts protocol Lee. He has plenty to do without getting involved with this," he said pointing to the message now on his desk. "Installing a new sonar system is crucial for us, and as important as any ONI mission. So noÖnotÖnow."

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Lee knew at the time he couldnít change Nelsonís mind. He now hoped that they werenít paying the price for that secrecy.

The sudden jangling of keys snapped him out of his reverie and in short order his door was open and standing in his cell was a tall, lanky gray haired flag officer, one he recognized as Garrett Mandel. The admiral had recently been sent to Seaview to inspect her for readiness for a covert mission that nearly ended in disaster.** The man had accused Chip of espionage and had succeeded in getting him ousted from the boat. He had continued to try and implicate him while Seaview sat helpless on a seamount and Chip struggled to find and rescue her. Lee certainly held no respect for the man, other than that due his rank. Lee rose to his feet as Mandel closed the cell door behind him.

"Commander, sit down."

Lee complied, albeit slowly.

"You and your staff seem to have problems with authority. You are always interfering with our investigations by sneaking around. I donít know if youíll get out of thisÖthis mess. However, I am here to make sure the civilian authorities donít gain access to any of your special knowledge so I need to hear from you about what youíve been doing and whyÖand donít leave anything out!" The last few words were said with distinct arrogance.

Lee stopped to size up his options before responding. He had to know why he was in custody but at the same time he didnít know how Mandel fit into the equation. Was he investigating the scientists and the ONI agents who were assisting them or was he colluding with the suspect agents? Deciding he desperately needed an answer to one nagging question he simply asked it.

"Admiral, where are Admiral Nelson and Commander Morton?"

Mandel looked at him quizzically but said nothing.

Lee repeated the question. "Admiral, I have a right to know. Where are Nelson and Morton?"

Mandel crossed his arms and then in an apparent test of wills he locked eyes with the captain and said nothing. Lee was trained well by the Navy and ONI and he was not about to flinch. Still, he knew that he would remain in the cell as long as he continued to challenge the man in front of him so after a few minutes and without moving his eyes he simply asked the question foremost in his mind.

"Sir, are Admiral Nelson and Commander Morton dead?"

Mandel dropped his arms then laughed smugly. "You tell me, Crane."

Lee felt a moment of relief at the response. The officers found dead on the beach were not the admiral and Chip! Still, his friends were apparently missing and two naval officers were dead so his tension quickly returned. "Admiral, Iím not sure why Iím here. You obviously do and you know I wonít tell you anything without knowing more about whatís going on."

"Yes, Commander, unfortunately I do," Mandel answered reluctantly. After a short pause he continued. "At 1230 hours two of my aides were found dead, washed up on a beach near Savannah. That triggered an investigation by the cops in Savannah and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. When they found out the officers were from ONI they phoned Washington and I was contacted. They are all insisting that we cooperate since the murders are under their jurisdiction."

"Sir, what do the deaths of your officers have to do with me or with Admiral Nelson?"

Mandel paused and let out a long slow breath. "What were you doing on Hilton Head, Commander? I know for a fact that Nelson refused to let you in on the mission to investigate the scientists."

"To attend the conference. We plan on installing a new sonar system and were doing research."

"Research? You call snooping around the loading docks and asking a lot of questions of the scientistsí staff research?"

Damn! He had been checking out the equipment brought in by the suspect researchers and he had spoken casually to a few of the handlers and the convention center staff. He hadnít really considered that ONI agents would be watching every move he made but thinking about it now, it made sense.

"Commander, you need to tell me everything."

Lee surprised the senior officer by jumping up from his seat, and Mandel responded by taking several quick steps backward. Lee then lowered his voice. "Admiral, where are Nelson and Morton?"

"We donít know."

"What do you mean you donít know?"

"They were last seen by my men going into the convention center. They saw them with you."

Lee was already angry by the stonewalling and now the insinuation caused his ire to inch higher. "That canít beÖsir. They went into the auditorium to hear Dr. Teller speak. I saw them go inside and since your men were following me, your men obviously saw them too!" Lee paused to catch his breath before launching his second salvo. "Who reported them missing in the first place? Was that your men too? How do you know it wasnít one of them?"

Mandel ignored the questions and continued with his own agenda. "We questioned the attendees and we talked briefly with Dr. Teller. None of them remembered either man being there. That leaves you as the one and only suspect. I have the local sheriff investigating Nelsonís disappearance but I donít plan on giving any of those yokels any information about our other little problem."

"And you actually believe that I would do something to my ÖCO and my exec?" Lee was going to say friends but he knew that wouldnít help his case. "What would I gain?"

"Power. Money. Who knows? People have switched sides for a lot less."

Lee knew any response he made could be grounds for charges of insubordination but he could hold back no longer. "I already have a job I love with people I admire. You stand there and tell me two of those people are missing and here you are wasting precious time that might just cost their lives. Just because you canít control your agents doesnít mean my people should suffer. Why arenít you doing everything you can to find them?"

"Commander, you had better hold your tongue. Iím not Admiral Nelson or Admiral Johnson," he said referring to Admiral William Johnson, head of ONI and a man with whom Lee had a fairly good working relationship. "I demand respect, even if it doesnít suit you. I have my hands full so Iím going to turn you over to the civilian authorities but be forewarned. You had better not release any information about ONI operations or our other investigation. There is way too much to lose. I daresay you are completely expendable and donít ever doubt that." Mandel turned on his heels and knocked three times on the door. It opened and the admiral left as quickly as he came.

Lee wasnít worried about talking to the police per se. He knew the deaths of three men were likely related to the disappearance of the two Seaview officers. Unfortunately, without information from and about ONI, the locals would not make the connections to the larger plot and they would focus only on him as their prime suspect in a kidnapping. The longer he spent tied up with questioning, the greater the likelihood things would turn out badly. He wasnít egotistical, thinking that he was the only one who could locate the admiral and Chip, but he didnít think any local agency had the necessary resources or connections to find them.

Leeís fist came down hard on the metal bench. Shaking it to take the edge off the pain, he chastised himself. This is not helping. Think Crane think. Lee leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. He hoped to clear his mind of anger for Mandel by instead focusing on the details of earlier events. On Friday he and Chip had checked with Lt. Bob OíBrien, Seaviewís Second Officer, on the status of repairs then Chip had left to meet with the admiral to discuss the conference. Meanwhile, he had made one of his typical tours of the boat and once satisfied that repairs were progressing on schedule he had gone to his cabin and worked his way through a large pile of reports. Saturday morning he had written up and filed the flight plan for their trip east in FS1 and for the remainder of the weekend he had holed up in his office at the Institute reading intelligence briefings and packing for the trip.

On Monday he had picked up Chip at his condo and the two traveled the short distance to NIMR where they ate breakfast together in the cafeteria. Chip had been excited about the trip, uncharacteristically talking nonstop about the plans for the new sonar, the conference and meeting Chief Warrant Officer Tom Shaw, one of the Navyís sonar experts. Shaw had been assigned by the Navy to assist the Seaview on her last mission, installing and operating an advanced auxiliary sonar unit that had proven to be a great asset. Shaw was someone with whom Chip could bounce around ideas about application of science to the real world problems of operating a submarine and he was glad his friend was going to have the opportunity to meet him.

Now Lee wondered about the connection between the scientists and their work and the disappearance of his friends. Lee recalled an exchange between himself, the admiral and Chip on the flight from Santa Barbara to Parris Island where the flying sub would be berthed.

 

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"Lee, we are going to listen to Dr. Teller speak on the subject of psychoacoustics," announced the admiral.

Lee looked at him quizzically. He wasnít quite sure where his CO was going with a conversation about the suspect scientist. He didnít have to ask.

"You know, how the body physically receives sound versus how the brain interprets it."

"Ah, yes, sir."

Seeing a skeptical look appear on his captainís face Nelson chuckled. "They are different, you know."

Lee smiled. "Iíll have to trust you on that one, Admiral."

"Just as we see optical illusions, we can hear auditory illusions. Think about it Lee, when you are in a crisis situation, donít you think you sometimes hear what you hope to hear not necessarily what is said?"

"I suppose."

"Think about miners trapped in a deep mine where every rescuer waits for some type of signal that they are alive and every sound is interpreted as a voice or a signal. Then the miners are found to have been dead for days and could not have possibly signaled anyone."

"OrÖwhen you search for a sinking ship or wrecked plane, your mind wants things to turn out well so every signal you receive, no matter how garbled then becomes a message."

"Precisely, Lee!"

Lee tried to contain a smile. "And you see this as an important issue for us because we are often in crisis mode?"

"Thatís one reason, Lee," piped in Chip, who was seated behind the admiral. "We all know electronic equipment receives signals in the same way our ears do which is based on the simple physics of sound. When we let our emotional side make the decisions about what we hear, we add an interpretation that may or may not be correct. According to the research I just read thatís most likely to happen in a crisis."

Lee and the admiral looked at each other and grinned at Chipís newfound enthusiasm then Nelson added, "Our instruments can be designed to be very accurate and neutral recorders of sound. Our brains will never be neutral. It is best to design a system that makes the best use of both physics and the brain. And sometimesÖsometimes we need to trust the instruments."

 

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Lee now managed another grin as he thought about the admiralís statement about what made the best system. He couldnít help but make a correlation between the sonar system and the command team of which he was a part. The stoic, seemingly automatic manner presented by his XO and his own more emotional, sometimes volatile style somehow meshed and together they took on all challengers. He was sure the admiral knew they would make a great pairing when he first encountered the two of them as plebes at Annapolis and he eventually brought the two together to run his boat. Time and experience had only increased their effectiveness. Lee hoped there would be a lot more time, but now he had to keep focused.

As he thought about the documents provided to him by Admiral Nelson, including a dossier on the scientist, Lee wondered how Dr. Marie Teller, a woman who had labored to become well respected in the predominantly male field of acoustics could have so easily been swayed by a foreign power. From what he had read she was beginning to receive some sizeable government grants for her research, some of which had potential for military applications. The U.S. government paid very well and it would be unlikely that the PR could ever match what she could make in the west. What besides money would interest her?

Lee didnít have time to consider the possibilities. Again a rattling of keys broke his concentration and his hopes were momentarily raised that he might soon be set free. Instead, a guard came through the door carrying a plastic tray that held a sandwich, potato chips and a plastic cup with water. He hadnít thought about eating since he heard the news report but it was now after midnight so he ate the tasteless meal and shortly after finishing it he was escorted to the bathroom down the hall. When Lee asked the guard whether he knew what was to happen to him, the man merely grunted to indicate he either didnít know or wouldnít say. Upon returning to his cell Lee sat back down on the bench. Dejected but tired, he curled up on the bench and eventually nodded off.

****

Marie Teller stood outside the enclosed booth and stared through the glass at the man secured to the cot. "Martin, I need you to increase the gain."

Reece complied with the order from his fellow scientist and within seconds the blond figure, in obvious pain, started to rock his head from side to side. "I think he needs a little more time with this. He was not particularly cooperative, and we cannot afford to have him remember anything."

"Of course, dear Marie, but you do realize we might risk exposing him to too much and he might end up like the others?"

The woman turned around and faced her colleague. "What is it they say, Martin, another acceptable loss?"

"Thereís going to be a lot of heat on us if anyone gets any inkling about what we did and why we did it."

"No one will find out, so stop worrying!í snapped Teller. "We met our ultimate objective and have obtained the prize, now we need to handle the rest of our potential leaks. This government is too busy investigating its own military to deal with us. By the time they finish chasing their tails, our plan will be complete and we can assume our roles as lead scientists with the Peopleís Republic with all the perks it will afford us."

Reece nodded then asked, "Now?"

"No, Martin, Iíll tell you when itís time."

The man on the cot started to moan as the pulses eliminated all thoughts. There was only the pain, a pain that reached down into his psyche. Finally, he let out an anguished "Noooooo," then passed into the silence of oblivion.

When he once again awoke he was suspended in an alternate reality, not really understanding who he was or where he was. The sounds he now heard were oddly soothing. There were the low, slow pulses but he was sure he could make out words, a womanís voice, telling him he would soon be free.

 

**** Before dawn Wednesday Morning

 

The answer Lee had sought before he slept came in the form of a party of three familiar armed guards. One entered his cell, threw his clothes on the bench and told him to get dressed. The other men handcuffed him in front but attached shackles to his legs, making it very difficult to walk. He was led outside and into to a waiting van. The trip to the Beaufort County Sheriffís Office was much shorter than the earlier trip to the barracks had been. Upon his arrival Lee was led from the van and inside to a reception area where he was searched and his handcuffs and shackles were removed. He was then led to a small interview room where he was seated at the small table. Within minutes he was joined by two men in dressed in business suits. One was a young, large dark skinned man with light colored eyes and a pleasant smile. The other was an older graying Caucasian with craggy facial features.

The younger man reached down and shook Leeís hand as he introduced the pair to the captain. "Commander Crane, Iím Milton Seers and this is Joe Cranford. Weíre from the Beaufort County Sheriffís Office. We need to ask you some question about the disappearance of three men from the Conference Center on Hilton Head. I understand you work with two of them."

Lee recognized the congenial tone used by his latest interviewer as just another technique to catch him off-guard. He also did not miss his reference to three men but he hid his surprise. "Yes, I work for Harriman Nelson and Charles, Chip Morton is my executive officer. They are good friends of mine as well as colleagues. You have me at the disadvantage. I hadnít heard that someone else was missing."

The detectives looked at each other and this time Cranford spoke. "Youíve already been interviewed by the Navy, I presume?í

"Yes."

"Did they provide you with any information about our investigation?"

"No. Iíve been worried about my friends ever since they didnít make our dinner appointment. Iíve heard absolutely nothing about them. I donít even know who reported them missing, since it wasnít me. So, who did?"

The experienced interrogators maintained control of the interview and continued to ask rather than answer questions. "Did they tell you to hold back certain information from us?"

Remembering Mandelís warning Lee hesitated and that delay appeared to set off Cranford, who leaned in menacingly.

"You may think we donít know what weíre doing here, Commander, and Iím guessing the Navy told you the same thing." Cranford stood up and crossed his arms. "You do realize that we have many special visitors to our county every year. Foreign dignitaries, royalty, well heeled patrons and even presidents come here to use our facilities. Weíre used to dealing with the security issues surrounding these folks. We arenít afraid to butt heads with the U.S. Navy and if you have any notion of obstructing our investigation, you had better reconsider."

Once again playing the "good cop" to Cranfordís "bad cop", Seers interrupted Cranford and spoke in a quiet but firm voice. "Commander, we donít know what you know and we certainly canít find your friends without your input." Seers pulled over one of the other chairs in the room and straddled it and looked Lee in the eye. "Weíve had dealings with the Navy in the past and found them a little less than forthcoming about what they knew. They inject themselves into our investigations and give us nothing in return. This time they told us your officers were missing, gave us your name and even told us where you were staying. They said you were the most likely suspect in any disappearance and that youíd be delivered to us. Well, here you are."

It now appeared to Lee that he was a bone being tossed to these officers to deflect their attention away from ONIís own beleaguered investigation. It angered him that anyone in the Navy would consider the disappearance of Nelson and Morton as a side issue, a simple casualty of war, considering that both knew a great deal about national defense and would be prizes for any foreign power attempting to gain access to those secrets. It would not be the first time in his dealings with the intelligence agency that he had to take things into his own hands, but first he had to get out of the sticky situation he was in.

"Detective, am I under arrest?"

"No," Seers answered quickly. "At least, not yet. All depends on what you have to tell us."

Lee needed to know what the men knew so after due consideration to any risks he decided to present them with a carefully edited version of events.

"Very well, Iíll tell you what I know if it means youíll start to look for them."

After Cranford grabbed a pad of paper he sat taking notes as Lee told his redacted story.

"We flew in Monday evening and went straight to our hotel for check in. Yesterday the admiral and Commander Morton were scheduled to meet with another colleague, Chief Warrant Officer Tom Shaw, for lunch and the admiral and Mr. Morton were to attend Dr. Tellerís lecture. I met them on their way and walked with them until they reached the auditorium. I left them there and went to do some of my own research for the Institute."

"Where did you go?" queried Cranford.

"There were some technology displays in another room. I talked to several vendors and a couple of scientists who were also looking at the displays. After that I went back to my hotel. I had some reading to catch up on. I arranged to meet up with my friends for an early dinner, before the evening sessions. They were late and when I answered the door thinking it was them, there was my Navy escort."

Seers asked a few questions for clarification. "Did anyone see you as you took care of your research, Commander?"

"Not sure. The vendors I talked to would remember I was thereÖ and the scientistsÖ and a couple of men who were supervising the unloading of equipment. I never stopped at the hotel desk anytime yesterday so I canít say if they saw me come in. My comings and goings should be on tape if you have closed circuit TV. Of course, only the cleaning crew would have been in my room."

"Weíll check that out. This Shaw, where is he staying?"

"In one of the rental condos. He was supposed to be in Dr. Reeceís session this morning with the admiral and Mr. Morton. He should be there now."

Cranford stopped writing and piped up with a question. "Ya do know that Reece is our third missing person?"

Lee shook his head. "I already told you that I didnít know anything about a third person. Iíve never met the man, only heard about his research on sound masking."

"Whatís that?" asked Cranford.

"Itís something thatís important when using sonar. If we hear multiple sounds at once, some of the sounds will be hidden or masked by the others based on how our ears and brains work. That can cause us to miss some important signalsÖ not a good thing on a sub at 3000 feet."

"This reading you said you were doing. Care to tell me about it?"

"That, I canít. Itís a security issue."

"There you go, covering up for the Navy."

Lee sighed heavily. "I happen to have a pretty high security clearance. I had some security briefings to review. None of them had anything to do with whatís going on here."

"And what exactly is going on here?"

"What do you mean?"

"A retired Navy admiral doesnít usually draw this much attention. What would make him such an attractive target for a kidnapper?"

Lee abruptly pushed himself up from the table. "You mean youíve heard from whoever has him? When?"

Seers waved for Lee to return to his seat before answering. "No, but he apparently disappeared from the convention center and all indications are that he didnít leave there on his own. You and Commander Morton were the only people who knew what projects he was involved with."

"Harriman Nelson is pretty well known around the world. He is a scientific genius, and invented a number of commonly used devices. His research is published in leading journals." Dripping sarcasm Lee added, "He designed the Seaview, our sub. Iím sure youíve heard of her?"

Seers didnít miss a beat. "We know who he is, but we donít know what he was working on here. If we knew, we could determine who might find him valuable enough to take him and why they would choose here to do it. Otherwise all fingers point to you."

"Weíre planning to design some new systems for the boat so we came to look at the latest technology and hear about the latest research in acoustics. Thatís all I can tell you because thatís all there is to tell!"

"Your institute is a research outfit, right?"

"Yes."

"So why is the Navy involved?"

"We are...the three of usÖ are in the Naval Reserves. Weíve worked closely with the Navy on a number of special projects. Of course, those are not up for discussion."

"Of course not," sneered Cranford. "So, do you know who took them?"

"Believe me, if I knew I would tell you and put all this to rest," said Lee as he waved his hand. "There is nothing I wouldnít do to help you find them." Lee fought against displaying any overt emotions but he was frustrated. He slowly ran his hands through his hair, and put his balled fists on the table as the two men watched without saying anything. "You donít know where to begin to look do you? Otherwise you wouldnít be here wasting time talking to me," he sighed.

The two detectives said nothing and stepped out of the room. In a few minutes Seers returned. "Commander, there is one thing that you can do for us but Iím pretty sure you ainít gonna like it."

****

 

Three men in fatigues stood inside the back door of the unit in the in a small office park. "You know what to do with that one," said the tallest one. "Make sure you keep him safe and get him to the drop-off point on time. No excuses. The Doc says heís to be handled with kid gloves. Seems she has more than a little interest in him." He then wagged his eyebrows for emphasis. "And you sure donít want to tick her off. Iíll take care of the other one."

The two men took the older of the captives and placed him carefully on the back seat of one of two cars that were parked near the door. They threw a blanket over the man to hide him, closed the door, climbed in and quickly drove off. The remaining man dragged his partly-clothed captive across the pavement and down an embankment into a sunny, swampy area some two hundred feet from any buildings. There the unconscious man was handcuffed and then shackled to a small tree. "Have a nice long nap, buddy boy," he snorted before turning and walking back towards the building.

 

**** Wednesday noon

 

Lee winced as the wire coils were fed around his abdomen and chest and again when metal plates were attached to fingers of his right hand. He didnít fear what was about to happen. He was trained by the best and he was ready. However, being confined to a chair and having wires attached to him caused memories of a regrettable past experience to surface. He had once been captured by agents from the Peopleís Republic and over the short span of one weekend had been turned into an assassin. He almost succeeded with his mission to sabotage ballistic missiles being placed on the ocean floor and to kill Admiral Nelson, and he also tried to implicate Chip in the plot. Lee fought to set all thoughts of that incident aside and concentrate on surviving the coming ordeal. Think of the admiralÖand Chip. You owe them this much!

"Commander, sit up in the chair and put your feet flat on the floor," growled the short balding man in the room with him as he grabbed Leeís left arm, wrapped a cuff around it and tightened it down. Lee complied and when the man was finished the Seaview officer let out a long slow breath.

"Letís get this over with," he almost whispered.

"As I told you before, Iíll be asking you a set of reference questions to get a baseline reading of your responses. They are the same questions I already asked. Just answer yes or no to all questions."

Lee watched as the man tested the electrical connections then started up the polygraph. The hissing of the blood pressure cuff was loud in the relatively quiet room. It nearly hid the sound made by the scratching of the pens on the graph paper of the instrument itself.

"Your name is Lee Crane, is that correct?"

"Yes."

The examiner marked the graph paper with the pen he was holding then asked the next question. "You are employed by the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, is that correct?"

"Yes." Again the paper was marked.

"You have three brothers, is that correct?"

"No."

"You are a Commander in the United States Naval Reserve, is that correct?"

"Yes."

"You work for the Office of Naval Intelligence, is that correct?"

"No," Lee lied, just as he had been trained to do.

The examiner marked the paper then stopped and stopped to examine it carefully. He made additional notations and again started the instrument. "Your name is Lee Crane, is that correct?"

"Yes."

"You are employed by the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, is that correct?"

****

After fifteen minutes of routine questions dealing with Leeís personal life the examiner shifted his focus and began to inquire about the missing men. The questioning dragged on and on and Lee felt some questions were practically accusations. He couldnít dwell on them, though, because his training would not allow it. He answered each one as it came.

****

The examination was well into its third hour but in Leeís opinion, no new ground had been covered since the first thirty minutes. So far he had remained cool but he knew that every minute that passed was one less he was able to spend searching. Finally the operator asked the questions that signaled the end of his ordeal and a feeling of relief washed over him.

"You have lied here today, havenít you?"

"No."

"Everything you have told me today is the absolute truth, is that correct?"

"Yes"

"Alright, Commander, you can relax. Let this run for a few minutes then Iíll unhook you."

Lee sat still, waiting impatiently for the polygrapher to finish marking his chart and to free him of the spiderís web of wires. Once detached he stood to stretch, rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and attempted to shake off his fatigue. After a few short minutes the door to the small room opened and the two detectives entered. Seers explained to Lee that the examiner needed to evaluate the chart and that it would take a little more time. A little more timeÖ might be all they have thought Lee. Come on, we need to find them! The detectives then asked if he wanted to use the restroom or have coffee and he nodded and thanked them. Belying his true feelings he forced a slight smile.

Once alone and seated at the table in the interview room, Lee no longer needed to tightly control every thought so he reviewed what he had been asked, hoping to get a sense of what the detectives knew about the situation. Though most of the questions asked were reasonable, two lines of inquiry had Lee concerned because it appeared they were based on information supplied to the detectives, possibly by ONI. It was implied by the examiner that he and Chip were involved in some type of plot to kidnap or kill the admiral. It galled him that they were treating Chip more like a suspect than the victim of a kidnapping and wondered where they obtained their information on his friend. Based on his own rapid rise in rank and his status as Seaviewís captain as well as his ONI activities, the name if not the face of Lee Crane was well known in the naval intelligence community. He expected that the Navy had leaked certain background information about him to the local law officers under the guise of being helpful. Chip was not so well known and had little history as an operative with ONI. There were only a few people who could have supplied personal information about him to these detectives. One of them wasÖMandel. Lee groaned.

Lee had recently learned from Admiral Nelson that Mandel had received a negative incident in his service record from the SECNAV over his poor handling of his part of their recent mission. Prior to that Mandel was in line to head ONI upon the imminent retirement of Admiral Johnson. Was it possible that the man would now go to any length to get back at Chip for his role in that disciplinary action even if it meant that Admiral Nelson was harmed in the process? Or could he have it in for Admiral Nelson for supporting his exec? There was no way for Lee to know for sure. From now on he had to use the utmost of caution when revealing anything to anyone.

When the door finally opened it was Cranford who entered, holding a plastic bag containing Leeís military identification, wallet, watch, keys and the results of the polygraph. "Commander," he said as he dropped the plastic bag on the table.

Lee raised an eyebrow.

"Youíre free to go. We would like it if you would keep us updated on your whereabouts."

Lee let out a quiet sigh before asking the detective for some assistance. "Could I use your telephone? I need to contact our security department at the Institute." Lee noticed the manís hesitation and added, "Donít worry, Iíll make it collect."

Cranford nodded then led Lee to his desk, pointed to the phone and told him to punch in a nine for an outside line. Lee waited until the man left the room before placing the call to the switchboard at NIMR. Before long he was speaking with retired Lt. Commander Jay Gordon, the Instituteís head of security. Fearing the Seaview was the ultimate target of the complex plot, he activated level one security procedures for the base and the boat. After ensuring Gordon had things well in hand he asked to be transferred down to the Seaview.

"Missing?"

"Iím afraid so. While I work on that I need you to finish up the repairs and take Seaview out. Do it as quietly and as quickly as possible. Sheís too vulnerable where she is. I also want Kowalski, Patterson and Sparks to meet me here. Arrange for them to catch a military flight into Beaufort and let Mr. Gordon know their plans. Iíll contact him later tonight and get the details."

"Aye, Skipper. Is there any special equipment you need them to bring?"

Lee thought for a moment then something clicked. "Yes, come to think of it. Do you remember the new tape recorder the admiral was using to record variations in engine noises? The one he had installed on the bulkhead of the engine room for a couple of weeks?"

"Yes, sir."

"Have Sparks bring it and anything that he thinks might be useful for analyzing audio or video tapes. I think thatís it except forÖ" In a verbal wink to the young officer he added "standard issue and protocol." Lee was referring to the manner in which operatives were to arm themselves. "Now get going, you have a lot to do."

Lee hung up the phone then stuck his head through the doorway of the small office. He spotted Seers and Cranford sitting on the edges of a desk in the opposite corner of the room and they appeared to be engrossed in conversation. In order to make peace, he walked over and announced to the pair that he had reached the Institute and as soon as he received an update from his security officer he would get back to them. Lee then asked the men for a rundown of what they had uncovered.

"Frankly, Commander, not a lot," said Seers as he picked up a file folder from the desk. "We were told by your people that there was a struggle for financial control of your institute and that things had gotten ugly lately. They implied you or Morton, or both of you brought Nelson here to get rid of him. They said you wanted to run the Institute and Morton wanted to finally get command of the sub."

Lee could barely believe what he was hearing. "Thatís ridiculous, DetectiveÖ and what do you mean my people?"

Seers and Cranford looked at each other then Cranford spoke. "We got a call from some admiral in Washington who said he was with Naval IntelligenceÖsaid his name was Johnson."

Lee was momentarily stunned. That Admiral Johnson, a man he had entrusted with his life on numerous occasions could have possibly betrayed him and Admiral Nelson was beyond belief. He wanted to know more but unfortunately he couldnít let these detectives know of his connection to Johnson without revealing information about his own covert activities and those of the agency.

"And you believed him?"

"He had a lot of information about you and your situationÖor seemed to. Details that only someone in an official capacity would have known. What we learned in our interviews did nothing to discount what Johnson told us."

"So heís the one who told you Admiral Nelson was missing? Isnít that kind of strange, to get a call from Washington to report a missing person?"

"Not around here, Commander. Like I told you before we do have some unusual visitors with unusual connections."

Still not ready to accept that ONIís leader would ever make him the scapegoat Lee asked about Johnson. "And did you ever interview this Admiral Johnson, or see him in person?"

"No." In the silence of the room one could have heard a pin drop.

"So besides interrogating me what have you done?"

Leeís gruff tone caused both detectives to wince but Seers defended their actions.

"Johnson told us to do the interviews as we saw fit. He said he would handle the gathering of any evidence, that he had the best equipment and the best trained people. They were pretty damned thorough."

The detective then handed Lee some papers. "He had one of his men drop off a report of their findings from their search of the auditorium."

Lee examined it and it appeared to be on genuine Navy stationery, though it was far from routine for any naval investigator to release such information, even to a law enforcement agency. The content of the report, if true, was disheartening. As he handed the papers back to Seers, Lee spoke quietly.

"So, what you have right now is a big fat nothing."

"We will be following up on some other informationÖ"

Lee cut off the manís response. "I need to get going on this. You know where Iím staying. I hope youíll inform me when something develops."

Since he was without transportation, Lee asked for and was given a ride back to Hilton Head Island by a deputy in a marked sheriffís car. He rode the fifteen miles in silence. What a snake pit this is turning out to be he thought ruefully. He admitted to himself that Admiral Nelson had been right to worry about his involvement with ONI. The organization had repeatedly endangered its agents with poor oversight of its field operations. Leeís interactions with Admiral Johnson had always remained professional if not cordial despite the rather rocky outcomes of some of the younger manís covert missions. Johnson certainly knew just the right things to say to tap into his sense of loyalty and patriotism. If the man had done what it indeed appeared he had, Lee would have to reconsider ever taking another assignment no matter how high the stakes. He now regretted his sometimes blind loyalty now that it had possibly caused injury or death to those closest to him.

****

As he stood to the side, Lee reached over and carefully pushed his room door open the rest of the way with his fingertips, then peered around the corner to ensure no one was still inside. He immediately noticed that both beds and the chest were nearly dismantled. Lying on top of one mattress was a copy of a search warrant and he picked it up and read it. "Great for appearances sake, anyway," he muttered as he let the paper drop onto the bed. Seeing his uniforms, civilian clothing, shaving kit and open briefcase strewn around, he made a quick check to ensure that the intelligence materials he had been reading were still hidden beneath the carpet in the closet. He was relieved to find they were secure. He was, however, unable to locate the palm-sized radio he had brought to the conference.

Though the men were not taken from the hotel, Lee decided it would be wise to check the admiral and Chipís rooms. He stepped into the hallway and observing no one there he walked over to each door in turn. There had been no signs of forced entry and neither door was open so he deftly picked the locks using two nail files, a trick he learned, ironically, from ONI. Expecting the rooms to be in the same condition as his own, Lee was startled. There was no luggage and no clothing hung in either of the closets or from the valets. There was no trash in the wastebaskets, no specks of toothpaste in the sink or flecks of dust on the lamp shades. He had stayed in thousands of motel rooms and never had he seen such clean ones. It was as if the officers had never been there at all. Numerous scenarios raced through his mind but the only conclusion that he could draw was that he was being set up to take the fall for the kidnapping.

Lee shook his head as he pulled the door to the adjoining room closed and reentered his own room. There he quickly straightened the furniture, hung up his suit and changed into his khaki uniform. No use in trying to fly under the radar now, he thought. He also returned the papers to their hiding place and pocketed his identification, car keys and wallet. Finally he picked up his cover and stepped out, pulling the door shut.

Before leaving the hotel Lee stopped at the front desk. As he approached, the young woman standing behind the counter smiled broadly. He made small talk with her before inquiring if the occupants in the two rooms next to him had moved.

"You say rooms 412 and 414? Those rooms were vacated yesterday."

"You must be mistaken, Miss, could you check again? Iím in 410. My colleagues Admiral Harriman Nelson and Lt. Cdr. Charles Morton checked into those rooms on Monday."

"No, sir, they are showing empty. It shows here that a Lee Crane paid the bill and cancelled the remaining reservations." Looking up at his name tag her expression turned to one of confusion. "Thatís you, isnít it?"

"Yes, but I never checked them out. I wasnít even on the island. May I see the receipt?" Lee looked at the paper that the woman laid before him. It was his signature, or at least a good forgery. He handed the paper back to the clerk and shook his head. "Can you at least look and see if my colleagues are in a different room?"

The woman spent some time looking through her records but was unable to find anyone registered under those names. Finally she turned back to him. "Iím sorry, thatís all I have," she said with an exaggerated frown.

The sterilized rooms and now this. It was easy enough to do. The three officers had signed in at the registration table at the convention center on Monday evening and their names appeared on all the registration documents, including those for the hotel. They were certainly available to anyone with the motivation to misuse them. Mandel in particular had already suspected that he and Nelson were there for some other reason than to see the presentations and he had plenty of time to do whatever he wanted while he had Lee questioned.

Before departing Lee asked the clerk for a spare key to his room, telling her he had misplaced his. She complied and he was handed the key. He also had the woman locate a room for his men. Ironically the only available rooms were 412 and 414. "One last thing, Miss. Do I have any messages?"

She pulled an envelope from the slot designated for his room and handed it to him. He thanked her and stepped away from the desk to open it. His eyes grew wide as he pulled out the contents. "What theÖ"

 

****

 

Lee left the hotel and was still deep in thought and tapping the edge of the envelope he had received against his palm. As he stood on the sidewalk next to the driveway he was alerted by the sound of a familiar voice.

"Commander, need a ride someplace?"

Lee turned to look at the driver of the car that had pulled up next to him and he immediately recognized CWO Tom Shaw. He quickly pocketed the envelope he was holding and climbed into the front passenger seat. As the pair pulled away from the curb, Lee pointed Shaw to an area of the lot where the Seaview officers had parked their staff car, one on loan from the nearby Marine base. The car was gone, and in its place was a green compact. Lee slowly shook his head then instructed Shaw to drive on. Once they were back out in traffic Lee asked Shaw if he knew of the admiralís disappearance.

"Yes, sir, I got a message to call from some detective. Said his name was Cranford and he was looking for Admiral Nelson. He sounded concerned about himÖsaid I was one of the last people to talk with him and no one had seen him for almost twenty four hours. He asked me a lot of questions about you and Commander Morton. I tried to contact you but when I got no answer I figured if the admiral was missing you two would be out searching."

"Something like that," replied Lee, a bit reluctant to reveal anything about his earlier ordeal.

"You said he asked about Commander Morton?"

"Just asked questions about him; how long I had known him and how the two of you got along. Since I only just met the commander, I couldnít help him there. "

When Shaw braked for a red light Lee turned to him. "Chipís missing too." He then gave a brief synopsis of events, leaving out his opinions that ONI agents themselves might be among the culprits. He knew Shaw could read between the lines.

Shaw pressed on the gas and the car picked up speed. "Sir, what can I do to help?"

"First you can drop me off at the car rental agency then if you wouldnít mind I could use some eyes and ears at the social over at the conference hotel until I can get there. I have a feeling something happened at that lecture. Maybe a little alcohol will loosen some tongues."

 

****

 

Wary of using the telephones at the hotel or convention center Lee located a pay phone at the edge of a strip shopping center. He was both surprised and disappointed when instead of reaching Admiral Johnson on his private line he heard a recorded message that the admiral was unavailable. The second call to COMSUBPAC, Admiral Jiggs Starke, bore fruit, and he was able to gain the admiralís support for his plans to search for the missing men.

Upon noticing that he had only a quarter tank of fuel, Lee drove over to a nearby service station and began filling up. When he detected a flash of movement off to his left he turned and caught a glimpse someone ducking behind the building. Suspicious of the behavior he stopped pumping and darted after him. After several minutes he was unable to locate anyone so he shrugged and turned back towards his car. Suddenly he was shoved hard from behind and he fell unceremoniously across the exposed frame of a rental trailer, hitting the side of his head on the hitch. He shook his head and struggled to his knees, at the same time trying to watch what was happening around him. He put his hand on the trailer wall and attempted to rise to his feet, but blackness overtook him and he fell to the ground in a heap.

 

****

 

Lee opened his eyes to a ring of faces peering down at him as if he was a museum exhibit. All of them were asking him if he was okay and one even offered to call an ambulance. He held up his hand up to indicate that he was fine but it took a few gruff words for the small crowd to back off and allow him to rise to his feet. Touching the spot where he had hit the hitch left a small amount of blood on his fingertips so he pulled out his handkerchief and wiped it off. He then bent over and scooped his cover off the ground, dusted himself off and asked the bystanders if they saw anyone run past them. When they all shook their heads, he sighed. Glancing around once more, he thanked everyone for their concern and excused himself. Though still a little wobbly he was able to make it to his car and complete fueling up. Unfortunately, this latest incident reminded him that he was being watched and he would have to tread even more carefully.

 

****

 

As he took the stairs up to the second floor where the security offices of the convention center were located Lee brushed off another wave of dizziness. He first tried the door but found it locked. Assuming someone there could at least contact security for him he next sought out the information desk in the lobby of the first floor. When he asked the concierge for her assistance she smiled politely but appeared to ignore his request. In no mood to play games he repeated his request, this time a little more sharply. The woman huffed loudly as she reached under the desk and pulled out a walkie-talkie. She turned her head and muttered something unintelligible into the handset then turned back to him.

"On his way," she said stiffly.

In a few minutes a burly uniformed guard appeared at the desk. Stripes on his uniform indicated he was a supervisor so Lee ushered the man aside and asked to be allowed to examine the cameras and tapes. Rather than take the risk that someone on the inside was working with the rogue agents, he used a cover story. "There have been some unusual circumstances. We have a piece valuable hardware missing and I need to go over every second of tape from yesterday. I also need to have my men go over the auditorium, every square inch."

In a distinct southern drawl the guard asked Lee why he needed to look at the closed circuit TV tapes again.

Lee was taken aback. "Again? What are you talking about?"

 

"The NavyÖyour guys that were here yesterdayÖthey looked at the tapes and said there was nothing on them that they needed, so we reused the tape. They were all over the place, checking on things. They cleared out the room, tested it with some fancy equipment and when they left they told us we could go ahead and hold the next sessions. They saved us a lot of work."

Lee stood in silence, organizing his thoughts. "MisterÖCarter," he said as he looked at the manís name badge. "Iím late coming into this investigation. Can you give me a rundown of what exactly was done?"

"I need to ask my supervisor what Iím allowed to tell you. Heíll wanna know youíre here, anyway."

Lee cooled his heels while the guard radioed the man in question. A very long ten minutes later a tall blond man dressed in a black suit, a crisp white shirt and dark tie and carrying a walkie-talkie strolled up to the guard. "So, whatís this about?" The guard pointed to Lee and began to relay what Crane had told him. Lee interrupted and held out his hand.

"Commander Lee Crane. And you areÖ?"

"Bolt. Gary Bolt, Chief of Security," he stated as he completed the handshake.

"Mr. Bolt, do you mind if we go somewhere more private to talk. I need to share some information with you."

Bolt looked first at his officer and then turned back to Lee. "Come on. Letís go up to my office." Even with his long stride Lee struggled to keep pace with the security chief. The man obviously stayed busy. In the five minute trip to the office suite he received no less than eight radio calls.

"Have a seat, Commander," said Bolt as they entered an inner office. "I need to answer a couple of calls first, then Iíll be with you." He then stepped out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

For several minutes Lee merely looked around the spacious office. Eyeing what appeared to be a large closet on one wall he stood, opened the enclosure and discovered it contained a bank of closed circuit television screens as well as a regular TV. Upon hearing the office door opening, Lee quickly clicked the door closed and tried to look as nonchalant as possible. Bolt eyed him suspiciously then waved him back to his chair then took a seat himself.

"You said you have information for me?"

Lee breathed out a sigh and put on a perfunctory smile. "Actually, Iím concerned about my commanding officer, Admiral Harriman Nelson and my executive officer, Lt. Cdr. Charles Morton."

Bolt raised a questioning eyebrow but allowed Lee to continue.

"I told your man that we were looking for a piece of hardware, but actually those men are missing, and were last seen yesterday at the entrance to the auditorium." Lee paused, carefully considering what he would tell the man seated across the desk from him.

"Go on."

"I came to ask for access to your videotapes. Mr. Carter told me the Navy had already been here and checked over the room and viewed the tapes. I was surprised, to say the least, when he said there was nothing of value on the tapes and that theyíd allowed them to be reused."

Bolt sat back in his chair and stared at Lee as if assessing his veracity but Lee was impatient. "I want to take a second look at those tapes," he said directly.

"Iím not certain about letting you have access to anything. They warned me you might try to interfere."

"Interfere?" he snapped, then lowered his voice. "I know those men better than anyone. Donít you think I would be the one person they would ask for help? And, Mr. Bolt, donít you think they would pull out all the stops to find them?"

Bolt maintained eye contact with Lee for more than a minute before replying. "Yes. To be honest, the way they handled things didnít sit well with me, either. They were certainly very insistent on keeping me out of that room and away from those tapes. We have a good record here, and I know our systems better than anyone but they said "national security" at least twenty times so I stepped aside. They also told me they would release whatever information they could to the local sheriffís office and their detectives would do any necessary follow-up, so I just needed to cooperate. So you see I got the same treatment."

"The tapes, Mr. Bolt?"

Bolt nodded. "Not sure how much good theyíll be." By way of apology he added, "Commander, our security force has no arrest powers and we rely on others to take care of any criminal issues. The Navy said they would handle this situation but from the sound of it I might have made a mistake by letting them go it alone. I agree there should have been something on those tapes."

Lee was glad to hear that the man seated in front of him was taking responsibility, but would that claim translate into action? To impress upon him the need for follow-through Lee leaned forward. "Mr. Bolt, I also need to know what was done from the minute you knew there was a problem, until now. I have some men with special skills coming here but theyíll need complete access to your camera setup and to the auditorium. We need to go over everything with a fine toothed comb and I need you to arrange it." He sat back then after a brief pause he continued. "I realize this is a burden on you, and the conference is still ongoing but weíve got to find those men."

"I agree with you Commander. Our reputation is at stake. Tell me what you need and Iíll make it happen."

Bolt held up his index finger to pause the conversation while he made a quick phone call to have the tapes secured. He then stood up and walked over to the closet that Lee had examined previously, and opened the door. "You saw these?"

Lee stood and smiled sheepishly.

"These screens allow me to view the property four areas at a time. Bolt demonstrated how he could switch back and forth between cameras, dialing up over thirty different views.

"Any blind spots?"

"Not that weíre aware of. Here," he said as he clicked over to the area in the hallway outside the auditorium, "is the area you are probably most concerned with."

"How about back entrances, are they covered too?"

In three turns of the dial the loading dock area adjacent to the auditorium was displayed on three of the screens. Lee studied the views, sizing up how much of the area was in range of the cameras. It appeared to him that the units were in perfect alignment to capture every angle. Satisfied with the exteriors, Lee asked about the interior of the auditorium.

"We canít see it from the security stations and we donít record any activity inside the meeting rooms, period."

"Why?" snapped Lee, his anxiety suddenly escalating.

"Privacy," Bolt stated flatly. "We attract a number of companies with concerns about industrial espionage. They bring their own guards and sometimes they bring their own monitoring systems. Some even body search their own employees before allowing them in or out. Other groups hold private political meetings and fundraisers here. You can see the potential problem with us having footage of their activities."

"So what does your system record?"

"Anything you could see from my screens. Everyone who books with us is made aware."

"And the tapes?"

"We have one main tape and one backup for each camera. Itís pretty expensive tape, and high quality. "

"Why donít you wait longer before reusing themÖjust in case?"

"We can if we have a reason to. The men at the monitoring station can stop any tape if they see a problem. None of them reported any significant events yesterday. "

"Thereís a monitoring station?"

"Down the hallÖitís manned twenty four hours a day. Let me show you." As they walked Bolt continued. "When we heard there was possibly a kidnapping we took immediate action to stop the tapes. We replaced them with the backup tapes immediately and turned them over to the Navy investigators. They spent a couple of hours with them then returned them to us. They also examined our backup tapes."

"So for a period of time you had no monitoring capabilities?"

"Nothing recorded, but the men at the station could still observe."

Lee stopped and turned to the security man. "Mr. Bolt, something is bothering me. How exactly did you find out there was a problem if none of your men reported anything suspicious?"

"An AdmiralÖ Johnson, I think it was, called from Washington to say Admiral Nelson was missing and he was last seen here. Everyone here knows who Nelson isÖthe guyís a world famous genius for Christ sake. We knew that was a serious situation and told him we would get right on it. He said he would have his men handle the investigation because there was sensitive information involved. He wanted us to secure any tapes and cordon off the auditorium. He had men here in less than twenty minutes."

"You said twenty minutes?"

Bolt nodded.

"At what time did he call you?"

"I believe it was just after two PM. I can check when weíre done here."

Lee slowly nodded as the latest revelation sunk in. The condition of the hotel rooms, the altered registration, the reuse of the tapes and the rapid response of the "cleaning crew" all indicated someone on site was prepared to gather up and destroy anything that would show the activities of Harriman Nelson and Chip Morton while at the conference. Agents of ONI had to be aware of every move being made at the convention center and whether Admiral Johnson was involved or not was irrelevant. They made no moves to stop what was happening. That fact did not bode well for his friends.

 

****

 

Lee arranged with Bolt to make the monitoring station and equipment available to the Seaview contingent the following morning. He then spent the next hour examining the layout of the convention center and specifically, the auditorium. He made mental notes of the things he wanted his men to check more carefully and since there was no more he could do there without equipment, he headed back to the hotel to freshen up prior to meeting up with Shaw. Stopping by the front desk, Lee checked his messages. There was only one, that being from Gordon at the Institute, with a simple request to call him. Lee then stopped by his room, cleaned up the reminders of his earlier attack and headed out again.

When he arrived at the conference hotel he made his way over to a small group of people and made a little small talk. He hoped that someone would say something about what had happened during the lecture. He even asked a few questions about Teller but no one took the bait. Everyone was busy discussing the latest gadgets they had seen at the vendor tables. Spying Shaw moving towards him, he excused himself and the two found a quiet corner to talk.

"Commander, thereís a reporter snooping around the hotel. She was looking for Admiral Nelson and apparently talked to one of the people attending Tellerís lecture. Now sheís looking for background into why he was here and where he is now. I couldnít tell you what her angle is going to be but we should expect to hear the story at 2300 hours on the news."

Lee slowly shook his head. Though he had anticipated this might happen he hoped it would be after he had the chance to investigate things on his own. "Whatís her name?"

"Jones, I think."

Lee nodded in recognition. "Iíll see if I can talk to her. What else did you find out?"

"A few of the attendees mentioned having headaches after Tellerís talk, and some reported being nauseous. They didnít explain, and kind of laughed it off. They chalked it up to too much caffeine and were even joking about spending too much time with their heads in earphones. These geeks talk about nothing but acoustics."

Lee smiled, recognizing the same propensity in his own CO when the man was working on a project. "Anyone say anything about being interviewed by the Navy?"

"I asked one of themÖtook him aside and he said they were rounded up in small groups and anyone who had experienced something unusual was asked to come forward. To his knowledge nobody did. At the end they were told to keep quiet about being questioned because it was a national security issue. He said he didnít remember anything odd about the lecture, just had the headache and wondered why they were warned."

"It actually makes sense, Tom, or at least it fits in with what I already know. I need to go and find that reporter. Have any idea where she might be?"

"Thereís another social event going full force down in meeting room five. Dr. Teller was there earlier. I would bet Jones is skulking there, hoping to talk to her."

Lee thanked Shaw for his help and the two agreed to meet in Leeís hotel room for the news broadcast. He then left the room and made his rounds of each of the meeting rooms, the lobby, the lounge and the exterior of the building. He was unable to locate the woman in question and he surmised she was already headed back to her studio in Savannah to file the report. He resigned himself to the fact that all he could do would be to prepare for the inevitable by informing the rest of the Institute and afterwards, perform the necessary damage control. That meant another call to the institute and to Admiral Starke.

Lee located a pay phone at the gas station across the highway from the hotel and within a few minutes he was talking to Gordon. He updated him on the new developments and ordered that the Institute to be locked down even tighter. He also received information from Gordon that NCIS had been pressing the Savannah Police for answers about the cause of death of Mandelís men. While they had nothing definitive, they were able to determine the men had not been shot or stabbed, nor were there any large areas of bruising indicative of blunt trauma. Gordonís contact had also said that he had no information on the kidnapping of Seaviewís officers, and that there appeared to be a wall of silence surrounding that issue. Lee was not at all surprised. Before hanging up, Lee learned that his men would be arriving in Beaufort at around 0730.

Lee then phoned Admiral Starke. He provided him with the latest bad news but the admiral took it surprisingly well.

"We expected it, Commander, so weíll deal with it. Iíll call Admiral Teal at COMSUBLANT and brief him and heíll appoint an official spokesman. They are closer to you than I am. Just refer all questions to them. "

"Yes, sir, gladly. My men will be here at 0730. We should be able to make better progress in the search once they arrive."

"See that you do, Commander. I will be available if you need me."

 

****

Lee and Chief Shaw stood silently in front of the television in the captainís room and waited for the late news broadcast to begin. Publicity is a double edged sword, Lee groused to himself. Without it we might never find them. With it, an organized search is made harder and the captors might do something drastic.

As the news anchor began his introduction both men listened intently.

"Welcome to the newscast, Iím Brinks Vandiver with the top news stories at eleven. Today the City of Savannah was chosen over five other finalists as the countryís most interesting city by the magazine GrandTour. Reporter Handy McKay decided to see what tourists actually had to say about our fair city. His report is from uptown." The segment, which obviously was taped during the daylight, was upbeat and was not at all what either man watching expected to see. They looked at each other and shrugged but said nothing as the story continued. After a minute and a half the segment was concluded the anchor announced the next story.

"In other news, our reporter Cecily Jones spent some time out on Hilton Head Island today attending, of all things, an acoustics convention. With some sound advice, here is her report." Lee and Shaw now stood in rapt attention.

"Hi. Iím on Hilton Head where some of the worldís greatest sound scientists and engineers are presenting their latest work. Did you know what an acoustics specialist actually does? I received quite an education on the science of sound and the people who study it while visiting todayÖ"

Lee expected the story to be about the disappearance of the admiral, but instead the reporter presented a fluff piece on the odd characters who attend science conferences. Shaw looked at Lee. "Thatís not what she was asking about. She was a bulldog... and she mentioned Admiral Nelson several times." Lee nodded knowingly. Someone had likely influenced the reporter into silence about what could have been a career-making story.

The two men remained standing through the weather forecast. "Clear and very hot," announced the perky brunette as she stood in front of the map. Lee gave a nod to Shaw and the chief switched off the set.

"What now, sir?"

"I think we both need some sleep. Sparks, Kowalski and Patterson will be in Beaufort at 0730." Lee turned to the CWO. Iím sorry you havenít been able to attend the conference, Tom. If you need to go Iíll understand."

"No, sir, I already notified my CO and he told me to stay as long as you needed me."

With that, Lee and Shaw agreed they would both head to Beaufort in the morning. Shaw would drive on the return trip so that Lee could brief his men and they could hit the ground running. Shaw then left, headed back to his condo. After a couple of hours reviewing the dayís events Lee finally settled down enough to drift off.

 

****

 

As Lee stood in the hangar of Beaufort Marine Air Station awaiting the arrival of the transport carrying his men, he repeatedly removed his cover and wiped his brow with the back of his sleeve. Despite the early hour, his uniform was already soaked in sweat. With temperatures once again expected to reach one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, he knew it would be impossible to maintain his usual sharp appearance. He longed for the cool, controlled environment of Seaview for reasons than just the weather, however. Though it had been less than forty-eight hours since his friends had gone missing, those crucial hours had been wasted by bureaucrats and he wanted to get the search back on track. That is, if it wasnít too late.

When they caught sight of the C-9 Skytrain taxiing towards the hangar, both Lee and Shaw moved to meet the aircraft. Sparks was the first to disembark. As he offered a quick greeting, Lee grabbed one of the heavy cases the young officer was carrying and set it down nearby. Kowalski was the next to appear and he, too, was loaded down. Shaw relieved him of part of his burden then the rating and the CWO shuttled the cases to the car parked just outside the hangar.

Lee did a double take when the third man off was none other than Seaviewís CMO Will Jamison. The doctor was carrying a sizeable first aid kit along with his own sea bag.

"Jamie," Lee said coolly.

The doctor nodded and putting up his free hand he greeted the captain. "Skipper, before you say anything, I need to explain."

Lee and Jamison stepped away from the other men. "I have to credit this one to Admiral Starke. He called me late last night and ordered me to come along. He was concerned about the condition Admiral Nelson might be in when heís found, so you see, I really didnít have much choice."

"Why didnít you call me and tell me?"

Jamison cocked his head. "It was late and knowing if you got any sleep at all it would be minimal, I didnít want to wake you."

The look on Leeís face softened a bit. He knew Jamison had his best interests at heart but it sometimes seemed to him that the doctorís concern for his health bordered on obsession. Of course any attention brought to his health, whether it was his sleep or eating habits or how he chose to care for his injuries raised his hackles.

"Very well, youíre here now. It looks like weíll need to rent another car to get us all back to the island. Sparks, come with me, the rest of you stay here until we get back."

As the two drove off Lee questioned the communications officer. "I assume Mr. OíBrien informed you about what weíre dealing with?"

"Yes, sir, he briefed me and I gave the men just a few of the details. There should be some record of the admiralís and the execís movements if the camera setup is any good at all."

Lee nodded. "I also want you to look for any tape of the Navy men who supposedly checked the room for evidence, the scientists and even their technicians. No one is above scrutiny in this."

"Aye, sir."

"I need to get some papers from FS-1 over at Parris Island so Iím going to take Doc Jamison with me. Kowalski, Pat and Tom will help you with whatever you need. I arranged with Gary Bolt, the head of security at the convention center, to meet you men there. Tom can also show you around the auditorium."

As they pulled to a stop in the lot of the rental agency, Lee pointed to a folded piece of paper on the seat, a diagram of the facility given to him by Bolt. As Sparks picked it up he continued. "The auditorium needs to be searched again, thoroughly. Have Ski and Pat do that. If they find anything at all suspicious, have them check it, take it apart to analyze it or whatever you need to do." Lee said the latter as he waved his hand for emphasis. "Mr. Bolt has agreed to let us do what we need to, just donít let on to him what you find. Iím not sure who all might be involved with our problem. Iíll be joining you as soon as I finish my side trip. Oh, and leave me the admiralís tape recorder."

Sparks grimaced. "Sorry, sir, I couldnít find it anywhere. I looked myself and Mr. OíBrien checked in the admiralís cabin and in his office at the institute."

Lee shook his head in disappointment but there was nothing he could do. The recorder would have been highly useful for interviews. It could be sound activated or set for continuous recording and could hold many hours of recordings on a very small reel.

"But I brought you something else." Sparks then pulled out a pistol and two extra magazines. Lee smiled as he took them. Placing the magazines in his inner coat pocket he chambered a round in the pistol and stuck the gun under his belt in the small of his back.

Upon their return to the base, Lee ordered the men to load the equipment into the panel van now being driven by Sparks. Once loading was complete and the men had driven off, Lee then put his hand out for Jamison to precede him. "Doctor."

Jamison grinned and climbed into the front passenger seat as Lee went around to the other side. They were soon on their way to Parris Island some ten miles to the south.

 

****

 

Lee nodded to the Marine guard posted at door to the large boathouse, the temporary home of FS-1. He showed his identification and was allowed to enter, and Jamison did likewise. The sight of the small yellow craft rocking in the water inside the large boathouse made Lee smile for the first time in a while. While Seaview was his lady, he truly enjoyed piloting the flying sub, and no one with any sense would argue that he was the absolute best at flying her. Lee invited Jamison to join him inside but the doctor waved him off and instead stood and kept watch as the captain entered the top hatch and disappeared below.

Once inside Lee immediately went over to the onboard safe located inside the storage cabinet that was mounted on the bulkhead behind the pilotís seat. He entered the combination, opened the safe and pulled out some documents, including a few articles on the various conference speakers that Chip had brought along. On top of the stack was the magazine containing an article on Martin Reece. Lee paused as he recalled a conversation he had with Chip about the scientist on Monday.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Lee, this Dr. Reece sure has done some interesting things in his career," Chip said as he pointed to a magazine article he was holding. "Says here he worked for as a consultant for a sound design company and helped them to set up speakers in stadiums and theaters. He even worked for a couple of rock bands that were experimenting with new sound systems."

"Jealous, Chip? Maybe youíd like to travel with the big bands and have your own collection of groupies? Get your face on the cover of a magazine?"

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Though he had teased his friend about going to work for the rich and famous Lee had looked at the magazine and taken a long look at the photo of a smiling man that accompanied the article. He wanted to remember that face. He had wondered why someone whose interests lay primarily in commercial sound systems would be led to become a spy or what in his past would make him attractive to a foreign government. Only ONI seemed to know what had happened to gain him their attention and they had not shared that information with him. In his own research he had discovered that the man had published articles on acoustics in science journals worldwide, and it appeared he had the respect of his peers. He also had no history of criminal activity and he took no controversial public stands on any issue. He was by all appearances a model citizen, if that term could be used. Whatever it was that made Reece turn, it had to do with his work. There simply had to be more in Martin Reeceís past than what I learned during his background check or what he had revealed about himself in that magazine interview.

Lee sat in the rear seat and quickly sorted through the remaining documents. There were no obvious clues so he collected them for later examination, closed the safe and moved to sit in the pilotís seat. While he knew it was only 0400 hours in California he took advantage of the satellite radio set on FS-1 to call the Institute to check in. When he was informed that Admiral Starke had volunteered to go with OíBrien when Seaview sailed Lee groaned inwardly. Hope I still have a crew when I get back, he thought only partly in jest. Lee then relayed his plans and left contact information with Gordon.

As he signed off from his transmission Lee turned his head and looked down, catching a glimpse of something brown on the deck next to the co-pilotís chair. He was surprised when the item turned out to be the admiralís briefcase, the one he thought had disappeared with the admiral. It was standing upright and appeared undamaged. He picked up the case and looked it over, determining it was still locked. As an afterthought he considered that the case might be wired with explosives and he chastised himself for not being more careful in that regard. He set the case down and went to the tool locker to retrieve a pry tool, planning to take the case and the tool outside to open it by force. As he stepped on the bottom rung of the ladder to the hatch, he suddenly remembered the envelope he had received at the hotel.

Lee patted the pockets of his jacket in order to locate the envelope. Opening the business envelope he removed a smaller coin envelope and then emptied a tiny key into his palm. He quickly found the secret latch and using the key he successfully opened the case. What was inside confused as well as concerned him. It was a paperback copy of the book The Manchurian Candidate written by Richard Condon. There was nothing else inside the case.

Lee stuck his head out of the hatch and ordered Jamison to follow as he again disappeared inside. The doctor promptly climbed up to the hatch and looked down at Lee questioningly.

"Find something, Skipper?"

Lee held out the book as Jamison climbed down the ladder. "Jamie, do you know if the admiral was reading this?"

"Never saw it, but I donít always know what he reads, unless he brings it up. I do know he doesnít buy paperbacks."

"Do you know what this is about?"

"I have some idea," Jamison said as he nodded and took the book from his captain.

"Jamie, his case was in here with this book insideÖand nothing else."

Jamison showed his confusion.

"He had this briefcase at the hotel and at the auditorium when I last saw him. How did it get back in here?" Lee then held up the key. "This was left for me at the hotel, with no explanationsÖin my message box at the front desk. Who would have the key to the admiralís briefcase? And why would they send it to me?"

"Captain, I donít know the details of what you were doing here so I canít make any guesses. Fill me in and I might be of more help."

Lee looked at him with a bit of empathy, nodded and then began to explain.

"Jamie, there are a lot of details I canít tell you but the admiral and I wereÖareÖ investigating some scientists and a few ONI agents. I donít know who among them is friend or foe. In my first day here someone was spending a lot of time trying to hide their trail and to prevent me from searching for the admiral and Chip. Finding this," he said, holding up the key then pointing to the case, "is at odds with whatís been happening."

"I canít be certain but I would hazard a guess that someone wants you to have the information. Maybe itís someone who is working on the inside?"

Lee nodded in agreement. "Jamie, I need to read this book and see what it might tell us. We also need to get to the convention center. If you drive, Iíll skim the book." Lee then reached into his pocket, pulled out the car key and handed it to Jamison.

"Okay, Skipper. Anything else you need to take back?"

Lee turned and scanned the cabin looking for anything obvious that he needed to bring along. "No, I guess thatís it."

Lee allowed the doctor to leave the sub then handed him the briefcase, which now held the stack of documents from the safe as well as the book. He then secured all the equipment and climbed up the ladder, closing the hatch behind him. As he stepped out of the boathouse he sent Jamison on to the car while he had a brief discussion with the Marine guard. Lee made it clear to the man that he was not happy that someone besides Seaviewís command team had gained access to FS-1. The guard said little, only promising it would not happen again.

As Lee climbed into the passenger seat Jamie teased his CO. "I would suggest a late breakfast, but I believe you just ate a guard."

Lee grinned sheepishly, then surprising the doctor he suggested they pick up a quick meal. Both men were grinning as they exited through the front gate of the training center headed for a local diner.

 

****

 

As Jamison pulled the car onto the two-lane road between and Parris and Hilton Head Islands, Lee turned the radio dial hoping to hear some news. Unfortunately, his choices were limited to discussions about plastic surgery, the latest financial news, the most recent Hollywood gossip and the regular top forty music fare. Lee was still surprised that news of the admiralís disappearance had not yet leaked out but he said nothing to Jamie. He then turned the radio off and pulled out the book. He scanned the pages trying to pick up any details. A dark look crossed his face as he realized the book was a fictional account of the mass hypnosis of a group of Korean War soldiers.

"Whatís the matter, Skipper?" asked the doctor with concern.

"Brainwashing," said Lee as he continued to stare at the book. "Itís about brainwashing of a group of soldiers, and making one into an assassin." It was no coincidence that the book had been left where he would find it, so Lee read further.

"Craaaackkk!" The sound of a rifle shot reverberated through the air and Lee and Jamison instinctively ducked then snapped their heads around trying to locate the direction of fire. The car pitched to one side just before the men heard a second sharp crack and a loud pop. While Jamison struggled to control the car as it veered onto the shoulder of the road, Lee pulled out his pistol, ready to roll out the as soon as the vehicle was stopped. "Jamie! Follow behind me!" he ordered. Once the car had ceased moving, the doctor slid over to the passenger side and followed his CO out the door. With Lee providing cover, both men took off for most protected area they could see, that being a large tree two hundred feet from the road.

From their sheltered spot both men looked around hoping to discover the source of the gunfire; however, there were no parked vehicles in sight, no birds moved from their wire perches and they were unable to detect any rustling over the traffic noise. After several minutes Lee felt it was safe enough to venture out and the men cautiously walked towards the car. Upon seeing the flattened right front tire, Lee shook his head. He turned and handed the gun to Jamison, who took it reluctantly. As he removed his jacket, he said, "Keep your eyes peeledÖunless you want to change the tire?"

Jamison shook his head and the captain reached in the open door, laid his jacket over the seat and pulled the keys from the ignition. He then walked around to the back of the car and unlatched the trunk. Preparing to reach in and grab the jack and the spare tire he was shocked at what he saw. It was Chip Morton, unconscious, dressed only in his slacks and curled up in a fetal position. His eyes were partly covered with duct tape, his wrists were abraded, red, and swollen and his exposed skin was sunburned. His back was one large abrasion.

"Doc, get over here!" he shouted to the medic, who scurried over.

At the sight Jamisonís eyes grew as wide as saucers.

"Here, help me get him out of there," Lee said anxiously.

"Wait a minute, Skipper. Let me check him out." Jamison handed the pistol back to Lee then went into the passenger compartment and brought out his bag and the first aid kit. He donned his stethoscope then checked for a pulse. "Heís alive." He then worked to remove the duct tape so he could check Chipís eyes. After finishing his brief assessment of the patient he reported his findings. "His breathing is shallow and heís hot but heís still sweating. I think its heat exhaustion and we need to cool him down, now."

Lee looked around and saw that the closest body of water was a small pond that was well off the road partially obscured by trees. He put his gun back under his belt then, gesturing for the doctor to help, he picked up Chipís head and grabbed him beneath the arms and started to pull him out. Jamison grasped Chipís legs and the pair managed to shuttle him across the road and down the slight decline and over to the pond. The pair eased their friend into the murky fluid while holding his head above the water.

"How long do we need to keep him here, Jamie?" asked the suddenly very tired captain.

"Ideally, Ďtil he feels cool to the touch. Iíll hold onto him while you go flag down some help. We need to get him to the hospital and get some fluids in him and thatís just as important right now."

As he stood up and headed back up to the road Lee kept a concerned eye on the pair. Several cars sped past him as he waved for them to stop. He couldnít blame the drivers for avoiding him, since he was soaked and dirty and right now he looked nothing like the captain of the worldís finest submarine. He was relieved when at last the driver of a pickup truck stopped and motioned him over. The young man rolled his window down and Lee spoke through the opening. "My friend is injured and needs to get to the hospital and we have a flat tire. Can you give us a ride?" he asked, as he pointed at the pair barely visible from his location. The Good Samaritan nodded his assent, so Lee ran back over to the pond and with Jamisonís help he managed to get Chip back up the hill. The man brought his truck over to the edge of the road and in a few minutes, Chip and the doctor were in the bed of the pickup. Lee ran over to his car and grabbed the admiralís briefcase and stuffed the book inside, snatched up his jacket and his and Jamisonís covers then jumped into the cab alongside the man.

Lee explained the situation further and asked to be taken to the nearest emergency room. When he was told it was in Savannah, Lee inquired if there was anything closer. The driver told Lee there was a small emergency clinic in Beaufort and Lee directed the young man to take them there.

When they pulled into the lot of the clinic Jamison stepped down from the truck and went inside to check out the facility as Lee waited with Chip. The blond officer briefly opened his eyes and groaned and Lee reached over and patted his friend on the shoulder. "Chip, itís Lee." There was, however, no further sound from the injured man. When Jamison appeared outside with a wheelchair he was frowning.

"They donít have a lot of equipment but at least we can get some fluids in him."

Lee nodded then helped the doctor get Chip into the chair and held him up. Lee waved thanks to the man and he drove off.

It didnít take long for clinic physician to issue his diagnosis: heat exhaustion, bordering on heat stroke, a condition that required immediate attention. Two nurses promptly entered the treatment room, stripped off Chipís remaining clothes and placed ice packs under his arms, at his neck and in his groin area to rapidly reduce his body temperature. Dr. Grass then began a systematic examination of his new patient. He appeared satisfied with the heart sounds but spent a bit of time listening to the blondís lungs. When he pulled out his otoscope and began to examine the ears he made a comment that made Leeís heart sink.

"BloodÖblood in his ears. I canít tell where itís coming from yet. He might need to see a specialist."

Lee wasnít able to hide his look of concern from Jamison, and the doctor motioned for the captain to join him outside in the hall.

"Skipper, is there something I need to know?"

"Apparently thereís a new brainwashing technique being used by some scientists against our agents. The agents ended up dead and they all had the same signs as Chip-bleeding from the ears."

Jamison bit his upper lip but made an attempt to calm his very worried CO. "But Chipís alive, Skipper. Letís not get too worried just yet." Lee knew the doctor was right and the two went back inside.

Once he completed his exam Grass called the pair over. "His temperature is 102, down a degree from when you brought him in. His blood pressure is low but thatís due to the dehydration. His breathing has improved a little but he has some congestion that might bear watching. His pupils are dilated and slightly uneven. I took x-rays but right now I canít tell what the bleeding in his ears is from. It might be the cause of his pupillary response. I suggest you get him to a specialist who can run some more extensive tests. In the meantime Iím starting him on intravenous fluids."

Lee nodded then asked, "Doctor, if you donít mind Iíd like Dr. Jamison here to look him over."

Looking a bit indignant, Grass asked Lee if there was something specific he should be looking for. "You didnít tell me. How was he injured?"

Jamison broke the tension. "Heís not questioning your skills, Dr. Grass. Heís just worried, and Mr. Morton does have an interesting medical historyÖheís been a little difficult to treat at times."

Grass finally acquiesced to his fellow physician. "Wait until the nurse finishes attaching the fluid line," he added. He moved aside but remained in the room and watched as Jamison spent a substantial amount of time checking Chipís eyes and ears and even his scalp for signs of bruising or other trauma. While he performed the evaluation he spoke continually to his exec and friend, hoping to rouse him to consciousness. The blond did not react to any stimuli, however.

As he completed his exam Jamison shook his head. "I donít see anything obvious, Skipper but if he has concussion we might not see anything unusual. I wish I could tell you more."

"So he is at least stable?"

Jamison nodded.

Grass left the room and returned in a few minutes later with a piece of paper bearing the name and contact information for a neurologist with an office on Hilton Head. "He should be able to take care of whatever it turns out to be, but I wouldnít wait."

Lee thanked the doctor and handed the paper to Jamison. "Find out if he can see him right away."

As Jamison made his call Lee stepped back into the treatment room. He stared at his long time friend for several minutes before going over and placing his hand on his arm. "Chip, itís Lee. Iím sorry buddy. I never meant for you to get hurt." When there was no response, Lee pulled over a stool and plopped down. He continued to talk quietly as he awaited word from Jamison on what they would do next.

 

****Santa Barbara, CA

 

The lone figure plodding along the road towards the entrance to the Nelson Institute of Marine Research immediately caught the attention of the security detail and the two heavily armed men approached with caution while a third stood farther back. Whoever it was, he was bound with his hands behind his back and a hood over his head. The figure was barefoot but his clothing, though old, appeared clean.

Two of the guards approached cautiously. When they were within fifty feet they once again called for the man to halt. When the figure failed to follow the command their order they became more insistent. "Stop where you are or weíll shoot!"

The figure ceased his forward progress and stood very still but remained silent.

"On your knees!" shouted one guard as he shoved his gun barrel into the subjectís chest. The figure slowly complied. While one guard held his weapon on the man, the second guard unknotted the nylon rope that held the hood tight around his neck. Upon releasing and removing the hood, both guards were astounded. They recognized the man in front of them immediately.

"Admiral? Admiral Nelson?"

 

****Beaufort

 

Lee was tired of using payphones. He definitely needed to get on the admiral to invent some new technology that would allow them to communicate securely from almost any telephone. When we get him back, he thought with a bit more optimism than he had felt in the past two days. Before punching in the numbers he briefly considered placing a call to the local detectives to let them know Chip had been found but decided to wait until he had more information. He then called the Nelson Institute. When the phone was answered by one of the security dispatchers Lee was surprised.

"Josie, Crane here. Get me Commander Gordon."

"Sir, youíve heard then?"

"Heard what?"

"About the admiral."

"What about him?" Lee asked impatiently.

"Heís backÖhere."

"Is he alright?" asked Lee a bit more harshly than he intended.

"Iíd better let the commander explain. Let me get him."

Lee wanted so badly to pace, but the phone cord was all too short. He had to settle for running his hand through his sweat dampened hair. After what seemed like hours, but was actually less than a minute, Gordon came on the line. The man had barely said his name when Lee barraged him with questions. "How is he? How did he get there? Has he said anything?"

"SirÖ."

"When and how?"

"Right at 0830. He was in plain clothes but barefoot and there was a bag over his head. Someone dropped him off just out of sight of the front gate and told him which direction to walk."

"How is he?"

"Heís says heís fine. One of the corpsmen looked him over and said his vital signs were okay. They drew blood for tests, and heís getting cleaned up now."

"I need to speak to him as soon as possible."

"Let me transfer you. Maybe heís made it back to his office. Admiral Starke was waiting for him there."

Lee let out a barely audible sigh. The admiral was safe, but a small part of him was relieved that he wouldnít have to deal with Starke, at least for the time being. "Before you do, I have news too. Commander Morton is hereÖin Beaufort. Heís unconscious but alive. Iím working out the details to get him treated outside of any of the military hospitals here. Not sure I trust any of them right now."

"I understand, sir. Good news all around Iíd say. Hold just a momentÖ"

 

****

"This is Nelson."

"Admiral!" Lee was so glad to hear the admiralís voice he paused, and in that moment the admiral interrupted.

"Lee, is that you?"

"Yes, sir, Iím glad to hear youíre alright."

"Ah. I understand from Jiggs that Iíve been out of pocket for a couple of days. I seem to have no memory of anything between late Sunday and this morning. Anything on Chip? I hear that he and I met the same fate."

"We have him here, sir. Jamie and I are with him at an emergency clinic. Heís still unconscious but the docs seem to think heíll be okay. Admiral, IÖ"

"What is it, Lee?"

"Sir, there is a lot I need to tell you and ask you, a lot of things that donít make sense, but only if youíre up to it."

"Go ahead, Lee."

Lee briefly described the weekís events to his CO. The admiralís reactions to Leeís revelations including the conversation with Mandel and the interrogation by the local police alternated between anger and disbelief.

"I never thought Admiral Mandel would stoop that low but it seems I was mistaken. That he would fabricate a story about you and Chip trying to kill me is beyond belief. If I have to call the CNO or the SECNAV again, I will. And Admiral Johnson is not immune to early retirement either!"

Lee still had hopes he could salvage his relationship with Johnson so to deflect any criticism of the man for the time being. He also wanted to makes sure the admiralís temper did not aggravate any injuries he might have received so he changed the subject. "Sir, what do you remember?"

Nelson relayed what details he could recall about his recent activities. He had spent part of Sunday going over some intelligence briefings and he remembered putting them in his briefcase to give them to the captain. He had phoned Admiral Johnson twice. Making no promises of help and explaining that he didnít want himself or his men stumbling into something by accident, Nelson had asked Johnson for an update on the status of ONIís investigation. He stressed to Johnson that it was in his best interest to let him (Nelson) know what was going on. Johnson had promised to call him back after checking on some details. Hearing nothing from the man for several hours, Nelson had again phoned Johnson. At that point Johnson told him that he was dealing with a family emergency and might not get back to him until Monday.

Lee had no doubt that Nelson had been trying to protect him in regards to working with ONI and had checked and double checked any information he had received prior to their trip. It was possible that Johnson had called and relayed more information and Nelson simply did not remember it. Still, Lee was glad to hear that the ONI chief might have an excuse for not contacting him or the admiral, though he said nothing about his feelings to Nelson.

The admiral then told Lee he had no further memories until he heard the voice of Commander Gordon and snapped to in the infirmary. None of his memories were particularly helpful in determining precisely what had happened to the two men or who was responsible.

"What do you think happened to Chip?" asked Nelson.

"We wonít know until he comes to. Doc says he might have a concussion and he is bleeding from his ears. It also appears he was tied up outside somewhere and heís in pretty rough shape. He ended up in the trunk of the car and he was in no condition to climb in there himself. I think someone at Parris Island put him there while Jamie and I were in the Flying Sub but they also intended for us to find him. It was no coincidence that they shot out the tire and knew we would have to open the trunk to change the flat."

"I agree, Lee. What were you doing at Parris?"

"Youíre aware that Sparks, Kowalski and PattersonÖand Jamie are here, sir?"

"So Jiggs informed me"

"After I met them at Beaufort, Jamie and I stopped to pick up the articles about the scientists that Chip left in the safe. OhÖ Admiral, have you ever read the novel The Manchurian Candidate?"

"Years ago. Why?"

"I found it in your briefcase in the FS-1."

"Donít know how it got there. I never owned a copy."

"I donít know how it or your briefcase got there but someone is trying to tell us something."

"I believe youíre right, Lee. Let me think on it. We can discuss that later. What have you been able to do so far?"

"I managed to get the cooperation of the security director at the convention center, so I sent the men over to the auditorium to check on the cameras and tapes and look for anything suspicious. I havenít approached TellerÖ.frankly I havenít had a chance. I was worried she would disappear after she was questioned a little earlier but that hasnít happened. As I understand it she has been seen at some of the social gatherings. Now that the two of you are back, I donít have any problem with going after her."

"No, letís wait and see what the men find out. We donít want to confront her without sufficient evidence to back up our theories and it sounds like we donít have a lot to go on. I need to contact Admiral Johnson. Something about his being unavailable to you makes me uncomfortable. Iíll also contact the Savannah Police and get some background on the deaths of Mandelís men. I happen to have a couple of friendsÖ"

Lee agreed that the admiral would likely be more successful than he at getting answers. Four stars, a Nobel Prize and friends in every port were fairly useful tools.

"Alright, sir, I need to go tell Jamie about you and check on Chip. Iíll contact you again once I see what weíre dealing with at the convention center. And Admiral, could you contact OíBrien?"

"Already done. Seaview is staying in port for now but weíll keep the crew on standby and the Institute locked down." After saying their goodbyes the two men ended the call.

Lee was smiling broadly when he walked back inside and Jamison met him at the door.

"Whatís up, Skipper? You look like the cat that swallowed the canary."

"The admiral is back at the InstituteÖ safe and apparently healthy."

The doctor harrumphed, casting doubt on Leeís assessment of the admiralís health then he, too, smiled. "Thatís great news, Skipper. What did he say happened to him?"

"He doesnít remember, but says he feels fine. Maybe his memory will come back, and he can tell us more but in the meantime I need to stay here."

"Does here mean here with Chip or here on an ONI mission of sorts?" Lee just grinned and Jamison shook his head.

"Thank God for small favors. At least so far you are unscathed."

Lee felt a twinge of guilt for not reporting his earlier "mishap" but he remained silent.

Changing the subject Jamison motioned towards Chipís room. "Heís coming around."

Lee entered the room and observed that his friend was shivering from the ice packs and trying hard to keep his eyes open and focused. Finally the blond was able to look straight at his CO.

"SorryÖ.sorry," he whispered and Lee asked him what he was sorry about.

"I blew itttÖ just blew it."

"What, Chip? What do you think you did?"

"AdmírilÖasked me toÖsomething Öcanítttt rememberÖmusta done something really wrong to end up like this."

"How can this be your fault? Do you remember anything about the past two days?"

"Whadíya meanÖLee? Whattt day is itttt?"

Itís Thursday, at 1000. Youíre in a clinic in Beaufort."

Chip scrunched up his face. "Caníttttt remember. Lassst I...breakfast, I had breakfastÖwent to the boatÖsaw the admiral Öhe askedÖ" Chip shook his head in dismay.

"We found you in the trunk of my car. Any idea how you got there?"

Chip grimaced then slowly shook his head. "SSSSSorry, Lee."

"Donít worry, itíll come to you. You just need to concern yourself with getting better. Jamie will stay with you. I have some things to take care of."

"Jamie? Howw diiid he?"

Lee didnít want to burden his friend with the details of the past days just yet; he was already distressed enough. He decided to tell him something to calm him, at least for the moment.

"The admiral asked him to come here." Lee purposely did not mention which admiral.

"Whyyy would he do thattt?"

"Wanted him to attend the convention but he didnít know youíd be giving him work to do." Lee winked at his friend hoping to lighten his mood.

Chip started to ask another question but Lee put a hand on his shaking forearm. It was obvious to Lee that his friend was still confused, and providing him with more information would only complicate things.

"Mister Morton, just relax! Your temperature is too high and they are trying to get it down. Until then, cooperate with Jamie and Dr. Grass. Thatís an order."

Chip said no more but his furrowed brow indicated he was still anxious. When a nurse came into the room to check her patientís temperature, the attempt did not go over well. Jamison gently took the thermometer and asked the nurse to go outside. Chip was not happy but accepted the latest indignity from his friend and physician.

Lee knew Chip was miserable and very embarrassed about his current state. "Sorry. I know none of this is any fun," he whispered.

Jamison threw a thin sheet over Chip then turned to give both officers an update on the XOís condition. "Your temperature is down, another couple of degrees. It wonít be long before we can remove the packs. I donít think you need to be getting up right now, though. I have a neurologist coming over to check out your head, to make sure there are no complications from theÖ." A look from Lee stopped him in his tracks. "You have some bleeding in your ears. I want him to take a look at it."

"Why a specialist, Jamie?" Chip asked with sudden clarity.

"You have a headache, right? One you werenít going to tell me about. That along with the bleeding tells me something else is going on. I want another opinion."

"Something you areníttttt telling me. What is itttt?" asked Chip with a hint of anger.

Lee watched the door making sure no one was nearby before he spoke quietly. "You were possibly exposed to some type of mind control. Others who have undergone it had similar symptoms. I want Jamie to make sure there are no long lasting effects."

Chip looked at Lee, then at Jamison and then he turned away. "Headacheís pretty badÖ and everything sounds foggy. Thought it wasÖ justttÖ the fever."

Lee was empathetic, knowing his friend had to be hurting badly to admit he was in pain. Turning to the medic he asked, "What can you do for him, Jamie?"

Jamison spoke to his patient. "The neurologist will be here shortly. Once he sees you we can decide on pain meds. I donít want to mask any symptoms." Chip just nodded and closed his eyes.

Lee didnít want to leave but he knew he had men waiting for him at the convention center. He said a few words to Chip before instructing Jamison to do what was necessary to treat their friend. Lee also gave the doctor the telephone number for Gary Bolt at the center security office before leaving by cab for Hilton Head.

 

****

 

Lee located Sparks at the monitoring station near the security office where he stood behind the guard on duty, staring intently at one of the many screens mounted on the wall. Lee paused to watch the movements of the conventioneers displayed on the screens before interrupting. "Sparks, what have you been able to find?"

Sparks turned to his captain. "Oh, sir, Iím still learning where all the cameras are and what they cover." Sparks had plotted the coverage area of each camera on an overlay of the floor plan that Bolt had provided to the captain and it rested on the desk. As he pointed to two areas on the diagram he said, "I think these two angles give us the best view of the auditorium. Iíll start by concentrating on the tapes of those views."

Lee studied at the diagram. "Nice job. What else have you got?"

"I thought whoever took them might have somehow listened in on the activities in the room. I verified that none of the cameras are equipped with audio, so that option is out. I thought we should test for any type of remote signaling device or bug so Kowalski is sweeping the whole room with the radio frequency signal detector. We also brought the multi-channel scanner so we can tune to those frequencies and listen in if he should find anything. I have Mr. Shaw working with that."

After asking to have him check on the quality of radio signals in and out of the auditorium, Lee motioned for the officer to follow him down to the small break room at the end of the hall. Once inside the empty room he stood facing the door as Sparks looked at him expectantly. "I have some great news. The admiral and Chip have been located and both are on the mend."

Sparks broke out into a rare full faced smile. "Thatís great news, Skipper. Any idea what happened to them?"

Leeís crossed his arms and his expression turned sober. He went on to explain what he knew and what he suspected. "Right now we have no proof. We still need evidence on whoever kidnapped them and that will lead us to the big fish. "Youíre off to a good start. Pat going to help you with the tapes?"

"Right now heís searching for anything unusual about the lights, the environmental system and microphone setup. Heíll be working with me on restoring the videotapes when I get them set up. Iíll be starting that shortly."

"Very well, carry on. Iíll be checking back a little later."

"Sir, would you like to change clothes? We thought you might not have time to get yours cleaned so we brought all three of you an extra uniform. Theyíre hanging in one of the security offices behind the door."

Lee smiled in appreciation of his menís thoughtfulness. "Thanks. After I finish checking with the men, Iíll probably take you up on that offer."

 

****

 

When informed of the reappearance of the missing officers both Kowalski and Patterson beamed. After the men acknowledged their orders and returned to their tasks of finding any hidden devices, Lee decided to examine the backstage area himself. As he walked behind the large partition separating it from the stage he noticed there were two doors that could be opened wide enough to allow large items to be brought into the backstage area directly from a loading dock. When he opened the doors the loud shriek of an alarm caused him to quickly shut them. He opened them once more and the alarm again sounded. He ran his fingers along the edges of the frame checking the seal of the doors and found it intact. He was concentrating so intently that when he turned around and found both Shaw and Bolt standing near him, he was somewhat surprised.

"Commander, are you finding what you need?" inquired Bolt.

"Yes, thank you. While youíre here I do have a question about these doors," he said, pointing to the steel panels."

Bolt indicated he should continue.

"Is it routine for them to be secured while the room is in use?"

"Itís mandatory that they stay secured at all times unless there is loading and unloading going on. While we canít stop anyone from leaving Öfire department regs you knowÖno one can get in. There are no external locks, as Iím sure you saw."

"So the alarm goes off every time the door opens?í

"Every time. Much to the distress of some of my men, I might add. They have to listen to it and someone has to respond if they donít recognize the person going through the door."

"If someone were to leave, your camera would pick them up once they were outside, but if someone was standing inside and opened it, no one would know who was there, right?"

"UhhhÖright."

"Would it be possible for me to talk with the men who were working the monitoring station on Tuesday between noon and 1600?"

"I know one of them is working this afternoon, but the other, Nunn, hasnít reported in today. He was supposed to be here at eight."

"Has he ever been a problem before?"

"Nope. Always on time and very interested in his work. Some say too interested."

Boltís comment aroused Leeís suspicions. His training and experience had taught him that a person who expressed a lot of interest in an investigation was often either involved or at least had inside knowledge of the plot so he pressed further.

"What do you mean?"

"Some of the men say he was unfriendly. He never talked about anything but work and never socialized with anyone."

"Did he seem overly interested in the details of your systems setup, or did he volunteer to take care of high profile details?"

Bolt thought for a moment, before answering. "Now that you mention it, he did try to inject himself into the planning of this conference. He got hold of a list of prospective attendees and suggested some changes to the staffing because of it."

"Did he say why?"

"Only that well-known people were sometimes easier to protect than those who were less well-known."

"Why would he say that?"

"He thought the less famous felt security measures were a big bother for nothing and they were often less than cooperative with us. He said our well known guests were used to the falderal and usually went with the flow and even helped with their security arrangements. He much preferred to protect them."

"So what did he suggest you do?"

"He wanted men stationed inside and outside each of the meeting rooms and in the auditorium."

"And you didnít. How did he react to that?"

"He wasnít happy, but he came in and did his job anyway. He never said anything else about it."

"Even after two men disappeared?"

"I never talked to him about that, actually."

"Is it possible for us to get the list of attendees as well?"

"Iíll need to contact the head of the acoustics group that set up the conference."

"That would be helpful, just donít let him know what this is about. And I still want to talk to your man a little later."

"Of course, Iíll let him know. If thereís nothing else right now I need to get back upstairs."

Once Bolt was out of sight, Shaw asked the captain what he was thinking.

"Just a feeling. I find if hard to believe that no one monitoring the cameras saw anything unusual since the admiral and Cdr. Morton left that room and had to pass a camera on the way out. There was definitely a security breakdown. Now we hear about a disgruntled employee with a list of perceived security problems that included our officers. By his comments itís like the guard already knew something was going to happen at this conference. He might be in on the whole plot or he may have had a personal axe to grind, and wanted to prove his point. Considering how complex the kidnapping would be to pull off, though, I doubt he was acting alone in either scenario."

Lee slowly shook his head. The number of players in this game of espionage was rising, and it was getting hard to keep track without a scorecard. He considered phoning the admiral to update him on the latest information but decided to wait until he had something more concrete to report. He also wanted his CO to have time to check with his own sources for better intel.

Lee then asked Shaw what he had found and the CWO informed him that he had detected no unusual radio traffic inside the room and the local transmissions by the security officers and local police were clear. Signals on the military bands were also clear. Suddenly remembering that he had not informed the CWO about the return of the two officers, Lee shared the information. Like the others Shaw was relieved to hear the news and asked whether Lee had talked to them.

"Yes, but they arenít able to remember anything. Itís as frustrating for them as it is for us. Iíll be in contact with them again later today to see if things have changed. In the meantime we keep at it. Tom, youíve been at this for hours. Take a break, and make sure Ski and Pat take one too..."

 

****

 

Lee walked up to the security office intending to change into the fresh uniform brought by his men then interview the security guard from the monitoring station. Bolt met him outside his office door.

"Any word from Nunn?"

"No, still nothing."

Lee verified that the other guard was ready to be interviewed and asked for his clothes so that he could change. Bolt showed him to where the garment bag hung behind the door of one of the offices. "Iíll be back in a few minutes." In slightly less than ten minutes he had returned. He not only sported a clean khaki uniform, but he was clean shaven. Ever prepared, the men had included a small grooming kit in the bag.

Leaning against a desk in the outer office, Bolt saw him return so he indicated Lee should follow and the two entered his office. There Lee found the other guard sitting in one of the guest chairs. Lee introduced himself and began to question the man about his activities and whereabouts on Tuesday. Without any hesitation the man explained that he had spent the first part of his shift walking the floor of the center, and after his lunch break he sat down at the monitoring station and checked the critical incident log. There was nothing written in it so he watched the screens for a while. Sometime around one he went to take a bathroom break leaving Nunn at the console. When he returned he found no one monitoring the station.

Bolt interrupted and asked if the man had reported the breach in procedure. The man stammered then answered with a quiet "no". Bolt pushed the guard to explain as Lee stood over him with his arms crossed. Finally the guard admitted that he had been gone a good while and after a few more tense moments he confessed that he had been chatting with the concierge, trying to ask her out. Both Lee and Bolt shook their heads.

The man in the hot seat suddenly became angry. "If you donít believe me, you can check with her. If you ask me you should be checking out that idiot Nunn. Heís the one who left."

"Heís another issue," Bolt said coolly. "For now you better go sit at that console and donít take your eyes off those cameras. One more incident like this one and youíre outta here! Got that?"

The man nodded and lowered his head then marched out of the room.

Lee broke the sudden silence. "Sadly, heís probably telling us the truth."

Bolt nodded.

"We need to find out what Nunn was up to. Any chance of checking for him at his house?"

"I have my assistant doing just that."

Lee nodded then walked out and down the hall. In a small darkened room he found Sparks and Patterson hard at work. Neither man looked up as he entered. Each was viewing a separate video tape as they were projected on the wall. Lee watched for a few minutes until he was interrupted by Bolt.

"Commander, you have a call from a Dr. Jamison."

Bolt led Lee to his office and pointed to the phone. "Line two." He then left Lee alone, pulling the door closed behind him.

Lee quickly punched the button on the phone. "Jamie?"

"Itís me, Skipper. I wanted to update you on Chipís condition. His temp is back to normal so that wonít be a problem. I also treated his back and the sunburn. The neurologist checked him over. Since I couldnít exactly explain what we might be looking for I just let him tell me what he observed. Heís convinced he has a concussion and that it will heal over time, though he admits he never saw anything quite like thisÖ without any visible signs of trauma but enough force to cause bleeding. Iím comfortable with his evaluation."

"Thatís good to hear, Jamie. What are you going to do now?"

"I managed to arrange to use another staff car so I am taking him back to the hotel. If itís okay I want him to lie down in your room for awhile."

"Stop by here and Iíll give you the extra key."

"Okay, Skipper, if you can be standing outside the main entrance around 1700 weíll meet you."

Lee wanted to see his friend, to see for himself that he was indeed healing. He was still worried that there might be lingering or possibly permanent effects from his experience, but he also wanted to determine if Chip was able to recall anything about his ordeal. Having them stop by would answer some of his questions.

"Thatís forty minutes. Then men will be back from their break by then." Lee knew he should have stopped while he was ahead, as Jamison took the opportunity to play mother hen.

"And when will you eat, may I ask?"

"Iíll get something after I talk to Chip."

"Sure you will. Anyway, this morning while I was waiting on the neurologist I called and spoke to Admiral Nelson. He seemed to be alright but he admitted to a major headache. He took something for it and said it was subsiding."

"Iíll check in with him a little later tonight but Iím sure heíll call if he needs to ask me something."

"Forty minutes, out front. See you then, Skipper."

 

****

 

Lee was tiring so he decided to take the elevator down to the first floor in order to meet the doctor and Chip out front. He found the elevator car to be empty, and after stepping inside he punched the lobby button. Upon stepping back he caught sight of a rectangular object on the floor in the front corner. He immediately recognized the box as Admiral Nelsonís tape recorder, the one that Sparks had been unable to locate. He snatched it up and continued to examine it as the doors opened. He jumped out and looked around in an attempt to determine who had left the instrument there for him to find. That person had to have him under surveillance in order to assure he was the one who discovered it. He saw no one near the elevator or moving away so he made a mental note to check the videotapes of the area once he got upstairs.

As he went through the revolving door to the lobby Lee saw Will Jamison pull up to the curb out front and he approached the sedan. Seeing Chip sitting up in the front seat, he grinned. He then opened the back door and climbed inside where he ordered the doctor to find a place to park somewhere in the lot. Once they were stationary, Lee stuck his head up between the two front seats to address the occupants. "Chip, how are you feeling?"

Chip turned slowly. "Like Iíve been sitting in the bell tower of St. Maryís. No, really ÖIím a little betterÖ now."

"Glad to hear it." Lee picked up the tape recorder and showed it to Chip. "Speaking of bells, does this ring any for you?"

Chip looked at the instrument then grimaced from a sudden wave of pain. "I had itÖpacked it to bring on our trip. The admiral asked me to."

"Could this be a part of what you were supposed to do for him, that thing you couldnít remember earlier?"

Chip shook his head slowly and shrugged. "Could be, Lee, but I just canít seem to focus on a timeline."

"Thatís okay, itíll come to you. Iím going to see whatís on it. Maybe it will tell us something. Iíll also update you on all thatís been happening. Right now you need to go get cleaned up and get some rest. Iíll be here for a good while tonight, so things should be quiet at the hotel."

At first Chip just sat quietly then he leaned his head against the headrest and his eyes slowly closed.

"Iíll take care of him," said Jamison.

"Thanks, Jamie," said Lee as he handed him the key patted his friend on the shoulder and stepped out of the car.

 

****

 

When Lee held up the instrument Sparks looked at him in disbelief. "Sir, where did you find it?"

"I know this is going to sound odd but someone left it in the elevatorÖplaced it there so I would find it."

At Sparks questioning look Lee explained. "I told you it was odd. Apparently Mr. Morton brought it along for the trip at the admiralís request. Now it suddenly appears in the elevator for me to find." He handed the recorder to Sparks. "I want you to check it out, make sure its operative before we risk playing the whole tape."

"Aye, sir."

"Did you find anything on any of the videotape?"

"No, sir, not a thing. They didnít just reuse the tapes. Pat said it looks like someone actually erased them first. There was no sign of any Navy men on the backup tapes either, at least none in uniform and no one acting suspiciously. Since there wasnít anything else for Pat to do, I sent him down to help Kowalski finish his scan."

"Very well. Carry on. I have something else to take care of."

Sparks immediately went to work on his new assignment while Lee went down to the monitoring station. The man on duty there was one he had not seen before. He asked the guard to queue up the tape from the lobby camera from the last hour. Once he had done so Lee watched the tape, but he saw no one carrying the recorder or lingering around the elevator. "Is there a camera up here, on this floor?"

"No sir, they only cover the first floor and outside."

Lee nodded. "Thanks, thatís all I need for now." He now suspected that someone in the security office or at least a person who visited regularly was responsible for leaving the recorder. Whoever did had to be quite familiar with the camera setup and had the ability to move around without drawing anyoneís attention. He was at a loss to figure out why whoever it was didnít just turn it over to him. Another complication, as if there werenít enough of them already. When he returned to the small office where Sparks was working he closed the door before speaking.

"How is it Sparks?"

"Itís working just fine, sir. Iím not sure about the condition of the tape that was on it, but it looks to be intact. We wonít know until we try, since I canít play this tape on any other machine."

Lee thought for a moment. "Later. The men all went to eat. Why donít you take a break and get some dinner? Iíll stay with the equipment."

"Yes, sir," said the young officer with a bit of reluctance as he rose and went out the door.

Lee sat in the seat vacated by the lieutenant and flipped the ten by eight inch device around in his hand. He had toyed with it once before when the admiral had first shown it to him. He knew it was sound activated, and was set to automatically turn on when the level of input reached thirty decibels. That level was a little louder than a whisper. It would turn off after thirty seconds of inactivity and when played back one could hear a small click where the breaks had been. Curiosity got the best of him and he turned on the recorder.

"Welcome everyone. I am Doctor Marie Teller and Iím going to speak to you today about psychoacoustics."

Lee leaned forward in his chair and listened intently.

"As you will see, I have completed some very interesting experiments on sound perception by individuals who are involved in stressful situations. My research has focused on how people who must regularly deal with emergencies, such as police officers and firefighters, perceive the sounds around them. You are all aware that sound is not only a physical phenomena but a mental one. Let us first do a demonstration. Before I start, let me advise you that the entire demonstration lasts a mere eight minutes. I ask that you remain in your seats until it is completed so you do not spoil it for those who wish to fully participate. Let me add that several people in our audience have graciously agreed to assist in making this scenario seem as real as possible and that is much appreciated. My assistants will be handing out index cards and blindfolds to each of you. The blindfolds will allow you to listen and make interpretations of what you hear without visual input. The cards are for you to record your impressions after the demonstration is over. Everyone have their cards and blindfold? Excellent. We ask you now to please place the blindfold over your eyes. I see a couple of you are not ready. Alright, thatís better." There was a brief pause then the tape clicked off. When it clicked back on Tellerís voice was again heard. "Thatís good, very good."

Almost immediately the piercing sound of a fire alarm blared and a number of staccato pops of varied intensities could be heard over the alarm. After about two minutes the alarm went silent and was replaced by the loud rumbling of numerous conversations, though only a few distinct words were picked up by the recording.

Suddenly shouts replaced the fading rumble. Lee was startled to hear a distinct baritone above the other voices, one he immediately recognized as belonging to Harriman Nelson. A clipped "What do you think youÖ" was followed by an intense sizzling sound then the recording clicked off. Once it clicked back on, a totally different conversation was occurring.

"Alright everyone, you may take off your blindfolds. Please take out your cards and jot down from start to finish what you heard while you were blindfolded. My assistant will collect the cards and blindfolds when you are done." Click, the tape stopped then started again. The distinct cackle of a woman, likely Dr. Teller, was the only sound that could be heard. The recording again clicked off and on.

"Welcome everyone. I am Doctor Marie Teller and Iím going to speak to you today about psychoacoustics. As you will see I have completed some very interesting experiments on sound perception by individuals who are involved in stressful situations. My research has focused on how people who must regularly deal with emergencies, such as police officers and firefighters perceive the sounds around them. You are all aware that sound is not only a physical phenomena but a mental one."

Lee rubbed his eyes with his fingertips. He had just heard a recording of what he knew to be the kidnapping of his friends. He was still unsure exactly what had happened and who he was up against but it was his first substantial lead. He continued to listen but thinking he was now hearing the tape begin to repeat, he reached to turn it off. He changed his mind after hearing the next several words.

"I chose a group of firefighters and followed them through their day recording every sound they received. On routine trips I followed them and on emergency calls, I relied on a recorder attached to the outside of their masks. After each significant event I had each firefighter record what he thought he had heard."

"Why would she repeat her introduction?" Lee asked out loud.

"Because something happened when she was doing her demonstration that she wanted everyone to forget."

Lee turned to see Admiral Nelson leaning against the doorway. In his concentration the captain had not heard his CO enter. "Admiral, youíre back!" he said, standing.

The admiral set his briefcase down on the desk and replied, "Of course, Lee. Something was done to me, Chip and all the people in that room and I want to know what it was. I ran into Sparks outside and he told me about the recorder."

Lee turned off the machine so he could talk. "How are you feeling, sir?"

The admiral walked into the room and shut the door. "Iím alright, Lee. Iím not at all certain about what happened, but I have Jamie going over my blood test results to see if there area any signs of drugs in my system, even exotic ones. I feel fine except for a little headache and some tingling in my ears. Jamie seemed to think itís just temporary."

"Thatís good." There was a pause. "So you saw Chip?"

"Yes. He said he was feeling better but he needed some sleep."

"I didnít tell him you were missing. Didnít think it would do him much good in the state he was in."

"Well he knows now."

"He thinks he screwed something up, something he was supposed to do for you. I told him that wasnít likely. I think what he did was set up this recorder."

"Maybe, Lee. I might haveÖsaid more to him about our plans but right now I just donít recall."

There was another pause before the admiral spoke again. "He knew, Lee."

Lee had no clue what the admiral meant. "Knew what, sir?"

"Chip knew about the request from ONI, or at least he assumed it. He told me on Saturday, when I saw him on the boat. He said he knew something was up but he didnít want me to say anything to you about it. He just wanted to be prepared to look out for you when you needed it."

Lee was not surprised by the revelation about his friend and exec but he was uncomfortable being the focus of attention so he quickly changed the subject. "I donít know where itís been since the lecture but I think it holds some answers," he said, pointing to the recorder.

Nelson nodded slowly. "That and the book."

"The book? Why is that, Admiral?"

"There was a copy in the library and I had the chance to re-read it on the flight here. The premise of the book was that an assassin was chosen from a group of soldiers. Their scientists used brainwashing to make the other soldiers forget what they had seen and experienced. In our case, some person or persons used brainwashing to cover up something else. I want to know how they did it and what that something was."

"You donít think your kidnapping was that something?"

"No, I donít and Iíll tell you why. We were relatively last minute additions to the session rosters. If their goal was to get to Seaview, that would be a sizeable undertaking and not something that would be planned in just a couple of days. Both Chip and I were gone for a little over forty eight hours and both of us were released relatively unharmed. And frankly, as well known as I am why would they do something to me at this conference around all these people?"

"I suppose youíre right." Lee stood thinking. He had not considered that the kidnapping of Seaviewís officers might merely be happenstance, or they were taken as decoys. He had been too busy just trying to figure out what had actually happened to them and to get them back.

The admiral appeared to pick up on his thoughts. "None of this is your fault, Lee. From what Iíve heard theyíve had you chasing shadows since you got here. Iím surprised youíre still functioning."

Despite the admiralís assurance Lee couldnít totally shake the guilt he had been carrying. He tried by changing the subject.

"Admiral, what do you think they might be after that was more valuable thanÖwellÖ you?"

"There are a lot of things, Lee," Nelson chuckled. "Value is relative." The admiral crossed his arms. "I donít suppose youíve eaten?"

"Jamie!" Lee groused before looking sheepishly at his CO. "No, sir."

"Uh huh. Well come on. Iím famished and Iím positive you need to eat. " A grinning Lee scratched out a note for Sparks and snatched up the recorder as the admiral grabbed his attachť. The two men then left to eat a real dinner in a real restaurant. Afterwards Lee could provide more details to Nelson about the weekís events.

 

****

 

"I never realized how much history there was in this area," said Lee as he and Admiral Nelson walked back towards the convention center.

"A number of years ago I had the opportunity to drive up through here when we put in at Kings, Bay. It was fascinating to see the remnants of the old rice plantations and some of the battlements, some dating to the Revolutionary War. Things have certainly developed since then."

Lee, too, was fascinated by history and at any other time he would have continued the conversation. Instead he merely nodded as he stepped aside and allowed the admiral to enter the revolving door. Once inside the pair climbed the stairs to the second floor and entered the security office suite. A worried Bolt met them. Lee knew the next thing he said was going to be awkward for everyone, since he had not informed Bolt that the admiral had been found. "Admiral Nelson, this is Gary Bolt the director of security here at the convention center."

The admiral reached out and shook the manís hand and made an attempt to smooth any ruffled feathers. "I understand you have been extremely helpful to my men. Iím grateful for all youíve done. I hope we can count on your continued assistance while we figure out what happened."

Bolt acted somewhat star struck upon actually meeting Nelson. "Yes, yes, of course Admiral Nelson, Iíll do what I can. You are alright, sir?"

"Yes, Iím fine, thank you."

"Itís good to meet you, sir." Bolt then furrowed his brow.

"Something you were going to tell us Mr. Bolt?" asked Lee.

"My man, NunnÖ he must have skipped town. We checked out his locker and it was empty. Then we went to his house and it was empty. No it was more then that. As my assistant tells it, the place was spotless."

Lee had a bit of dťjŗ vu at the description given by Bolt and he pursed his lips. Has the cleaning crew reached out and taken care of the security guardís trail?

Bolt cocked his head. "Unless you know of something heís done wrong, I canít really do much to himÖother than fire him."

Both Lee and the admiral nodded in agreement.

"Hereís the list of attendees, Commander," said Bolt as he handed Lee twenty sheets of paper.

"Thank you, this will help."

"We have a bit more work to do Mr. Bolt," said the admiral. "If anything develops weíll let you know. Would it be possible to give us a larger room to work inÖone we can lock up when we need to leave?"

Bolt stepped briefly into his office then ushered the two down the hall and led them to a small conference room. "Hereís the master and here are the only copies. Frankly, I would rather not be responsible for your equipment. It looks pretty expensive," he said as he handed the keys to Lee. He then left, closing the door behind him.

Lee sat on the edge of the table and watched as Nelson looked at each name on the list. It was not long before his CO slammed his fist into the table, rose, shoved his hands in his pocket and began pacing. As he motioned for Lee to follow him outside there was a knock on the door and Lee opened it to find Bolt standing there with his men and Shaw.

Nelsonís anger temporarily abated when he saw who stood there. "Come in, gentlemen, you look like youíve seen a ghost." Nelson then looked into the eyes of each man standing there before turning to Bolt. "I believe we have a lot of work to do. Mr. Bolt, please donít let us keep you."

"Of course, Admiral, if you need anything my men at the console can contact me." The security man stepped away as the others entered and the door was closed.

"Admiral itís great to see you sir," said Sparks as the two smiling ratings nodded in agreement.

"Glad to be back, Sparks. Mr. Shaw," he added, acknowledging the CWO, "I hear youíve been a great help to us once again. Maybe we should discuss that job."

Shaw smiled. "I still think your world is a little too exciting for my taste, Admiral, but thanks again for the offer."

Nelson nodded then issued his first order. "Scan this room. I want to make sure itís clean before we start. Sparks, I want you to study that tape and make a transcript. Captain, come with me."

 

****

 

"Janek!" exclaimed Nelson after he closed the door to Leeís rental car which was parked in the lot outside the convention center.

"Whoís he, Admiral?"

The admiral turned to Lee who was now sitting in the driverís seat. "EllisonÖDoctor Ellison Janek was doing some research for the DOD on sonar systems. He is a brilliant researcher but his work is highly classified and never published to the outside."

"So you think heís the one they were after?"

"Iím almost positive, Lee. I can check with his co-workers, but he seems the most likely candidate of those on this list. He never did appreciate the use of security around him He thought it was a waste of money for some unknown scientist to have a bodyguard. If what that man knows is ever leaked it would definitely create a problem for all of us. If itís already happened we need to make some adjustments to our own systems to protect Seaview and us."

The admiral paused and took out the satellite telephone from his briefcase as Lee looked on. Lee was surprised when the first call his CO made was to the office of one Admiral Johnson.

"Damn, still not picking up." The admiral punched in another number. "This is Admiral Harriman Nelson. I wish to speak to him if heís in."

There was a pause and Lee looked on in anticipation.

"Danny, Harry. We have a major cluster going on down here in Hilton Head."

Lee winced when he realized Nelson had phoned the CNO, Admiral Daniel Hart. While he appreciated Nelsonís connections he knew any fallout from the conversation would be swift in coming. He had hoped that the issue with ONI could have been resolved by other means but it was now out of his hands.

"I donít know how much youíve been told butÖoh so he did tell you. Yes, sir, I know he hasnít responded to me. Sorry to hear that. Please give him my regards when you speak to him." There was moment of silence as the admiral listened.

"So, Admiral Mandel was left in charge of operations while Bill was out?....I can tell you that he picked up Commander Crane and threw him in the brig then turned him over to the civilian police, threatened him, even accused him of trying to kill meÖ Oh, I know thatÖHe said what? Thatís laughable, I canít see him handling something as complex as this seems to be. When he called the locals down here he used Admiral Johnsonís name instead of his own. He planted a lot of misinformation about both Crane and Commander MortonÖand his men ended up dead because his blundersÖYes, sir, I realize that someone had to do it. There is an issue I need resolved right away. I donít remember anything about my kidnapping or the days surrounding it. I do know that I was returned relatively unharmed. Iím concerned about Ellison Janek. He was supposed to be at the conference and attend Dr. Tellerís lecture. I need to check to see if he has been seen in the last few days. I believe he was the actual target of these people, and if so, time is not on our sideÖI agreeÖand you know how much information he has in that head of his." There was another long silence. "Fine. Once I work something out Iíll report back to you. Yes, yes. Goodbye."

Lee was clenching the steering wheel as the admiral signed off on the call and just sat without saying anything.

"Sir?"

"You were right, Lee, Garrett Mandel is responsible for most of the issues with this investigation. It seems Bill Johnsonís wife was involved in a serious car accident in Colorado. He had to fly out there, and when he did he found out she needed a series of surgeries. He turned everything over to Admiral Mandel."

"Is she alright, sir?"

"Still touch and go right now. However, he is unavailable and Admiral Mandel is still acting head of ONI, though that might not be for long. The CNO didnít know about your issues, since Mandel has only been sending him reports of his successes, not his erÖfailures. Seems heís trying to redeem himself in the eyes of the SECNAV. Anyway, the CNO agrees with me that Janek seems a likely target and he is checking on that end. As for the investigation, they are zeroing in on Teller but they donít have enough to bring her in for questioning."

"Admiral, how many people do you think were involved in this?" Lee then counted out each of the possible suspects on his fingers. "Thereís Teller and Reece, maybe Forde, at least two unnamed ONI agents, Nunn the security guard and his accompliceÖ"

"Itís hard to say. There is much more to this than we know and Admiral Mandelís shell game has complicated everything." The admiral reached into his pocket and took out his pack of cigarettes and lighter, pulled one out and lit up. He took a long drag before he turned, put his knee up on the seat and faced Lee. "Janek always resented being escorted wherever he went and took great pleasure in evading his own security detail, bragged about it, in fact. The powers that be eventually tired of his whining and stopped assigning a detail to protect him. That made him a sitting duck anywhere he went."

"This might be just a coincidence but the security guard who was supposed to be on duty, the one that skipped out, made a comment to Bolt that the less-than-famous were more difficult to keep safe because they felt they didnít need it. Like he knew something was going to happen. I could see the ringleader of the plot infiltrating security here. It would certainly make it a lot easier to get around any security measures."

"Itís no coincidence Lee. To me the bigger puzzle is why the scientists would carry out something so brazen in front of a lot of people. That makes for a lot of witnesses to silence. They could have snatched Janek anytime. What did you learn about the other attendees?"

"Shaw spent some time with some of them. Apparently many reported headaches, just like you did, and none reported anything suspicious. We know from the tape that whatever happened, it occurred in a short span of time. For everyone to forget everything that happened during a thirty minute timeframe is pretty specific."

The admiral nodded, taking in the information. He took another long drag then put out his cigarette in the car ashtray. "Not if they used hypnosis, Lee."

"Hypnosis? Wasnít that a part of the plot in the book?"

"Yes, a fictional account to be sure, but considering all the research that has gone on since it was written it is now quite possible to hypnotize groups of people. The period of memory loss would depend on the triggers they used. The triggers or the conditioning I received were probably different from the rest of the people in that room and might explain why I have a greater memory loss."

"If no one remembers, how are we going to find out what happened?"

"We need to concentrate on what we do know. Letís find out what Teller is up to, find Martin Reece and when we get the intel, see what role ONI was playing."

"And we need to see about the security at the center, and plug any leaks."

"Agreed."

Lee lifted his cover and ran a hand through his hair. "And since we already have it, letís start with the tape. Admiral, itís getting too warm in here, mind if we go back?"

"Good idea Lee. However, I have something for you." The admiral reached into his briefcase and pulled out a second satellite radio set. Lee had to smile.

"You must have read my mind!"

 

****

 

In the absence of the command officers Sparks had brought in a large instrument used to edit DBX tapes that allowed him to speed up and slow down the tape with some precision. "Admiral, there are limits to what I can do based on the microphone on the recorder, and there is only a single track laid down but I managed to clean up the tape. There is a little over an hourís worth of tape used, though since it is sound activated I canít tell you how long it actually ran." Sparks then handed the admiral a piece of paper. He took the notes from the lieutenant and scanned them then he handed them to Lee.

A thought suddenly occurred to Lee, one that had him concerned for the communications officer. "Sparks, when you were listeningÖ you didnít lose track of time, develop a headache or feel dizzy?"

Sparks sent a questioning look to both officers before answering. "NoÖ sir."

Lee looked to his CO for approval and receiving a nod he continued.

"Itís possible that something that could be heard on the tape was a trigger used to hypnotize the people in the room. I hadnít considered that listening might prove to be dangerous to us as well."

"No, sir, Iím okay. Itís possible that whatever the sound was it wasnít picked up on the tape, or we canít hear it when we play it back on this particular player."

"Youíre probably right, Sparks," said the admiral as he turned to Lee. "Why donít we sit and listen for awhile?" Lee nodded and all three men sat at the table as Sparks queued and then started playing the tape.

As they listened Lee watched his CO for some indication that the older man remembered anything about his ordeal; however, he gave no signs. "Sir, anything?"

The admiral leaned back and shook his head. "No, and I canít say Iím surprised. These people are good at what they do." He then stood, stuck his hands in his pocket and paced briefly. He stopped and running his hand through his hair he asked for clarification from Lee. "Lee you said Shaw questioned some members of the audience?"

"A few of them, sir. Why?"

"There is no way all those people could have no memory of anything."

"Maybe we need to interview them again"

"InterviewÖ" He stopped suddenly and announced that he had something important to do.

"Sir?"

"I need to head out. Iíll be in Savannah tonight."

When Lee started to protest the admiral held up his hand.

"No arguments, Lee. I had a good bit of sleep, and you two have had practically none" With a grin he added, "besides these people already chewed on me and spit me out. Thereís something I need to see about tonight."

Lee knew the admiral was armed and carrying his radio and he remembered the admiral saying he had connections at the local police department and he nodded, albeit reluctantly.

"I need to let the men go get some rack time. They deserve it. So Iíll see you in the morning?"

"Yes, Lee. Get some rest yourself."

 

****

 

Back at the hotel, Lee said goodnight to Sparks as the lieutenant entered the room he shared with Jamison. He then let himself into his room as quietly as he could. There was no need because he found Chip sitting up in a chair watching the news on television. "Thought youíd be out of it. How are you feeling?"

"Better. Itís hard to sleep with the sunburn. Iím still tired but ...Iíll get over it."

Lee sensed Chip did not want to talk about his condition so Lee changed the subject. "What have you heard?" he asked, indicating the television.

"Nothing much. They mentioned the conference and how much business it brought to the area."

"Nothing from a reporter named Cecily Jones?"

"No, why?" asked Chip as he stood and turned off the set.

"She knows a lot more than sheís telling about yours and the admiralís disappearance. Someone got to her, shut her up."

"Maybe someone from ONI?"

Lee nodded.

"So this is all the result of an ONI mission, then?"

"Yes," Lee answered quietly.

The two men stood in silence for a few minutes before Chip spoke. "I knew something was up. Every time you get ready for a mission you stop talking about the boat and isolate yourself. You get a look on your face thatís hard to miss. When I was talking to you Monday about the sonar system you were only half listening. I know you, Lee. Seaview is too important to youÖyou wouldnít let anyone make changes without your knowing every last detail."

Lee knew his friend was right. His missions did require a significant amount of preparation and concentration and whereas his love of his "gray lady" was evident to anyone that met him under most circumstances, he had been somewhat inattentive to the boat just prior to leaving Santa Barbara. More so than anyone Chip would be cognizant of changes in his behavior patterns or mood and of his level of attention to the boat.

"You spent a lot of time reading, and you didnít mention attending any of the sessions," continued the exec.

"That obvious, huh?"

"It is to me. Look, Lee, I think I understand why you do what you do and I donít have to like it. I also understand NTK. I understand yours and the OOMís hands are sometimes tied by protocol. What I canít figure out is why, despite past promises to do so, you two couldnít tell me you were taking on a mission in our own country, one I obviously was a part of. Didnít you think that might be something I needed to know?"

Seeing their conversation could become a full-blown argument, Lee chose his words carefully. "Itís complicated, Chip. Admiral Nelson actually told ONI that they couldnít have me. We needed to get the sonar updated, no two ways about it, and you were and are, the best man to get it done. We found out a great deal since weíve been here that makes it even more crucial."

"Were you going to tell me about that, or is that something else I canít be privy to?" The hurt in the execís voice was evident.

"Yes, of course Iíll tell youÖbut not tonight," Lee said in a tone that brooked no argument. Not wanting to sound like he was dismissing Chipís concerns he softened his voice. "You and I are both exhausted and we need to be rested to finish this up. Iíll tell you what I can in the morning and once we get this mission completed, if we need to, we can hash things out."

Chip nodded as if he agreed, but Lee was still not sure his friend for half a lifetime was satisfied with his answer. Chip rarely became emotional and he never took the orders Lee gave him as a personal affront. He was the perfect officer in that regard. Lee wondered if the treatment Chip had received had weakened his typically stoic mask, or if he truly resented that he was keeping things from him.

Chip had already lain down on the front bed and was turned on his side towards the door so Lee quickly readied himself for bed and turned off the lights. As he climbed into his bed and tried to get comfortable all the events of the week began to race through his mind. He tossed and turned for nearly an hour before again sitting upright. Upon hearing Chipís somewhat congested but regular breathing, he again lay down and this time he fell asleep.

 

****

 

At 0630 hours the sound of the shower woke him and Lee swung his legs around and sat up on the edge of the bed. From there he phoned each of the other rooms to give his men their orders of the day. After a few more minutes the shower stopped and Chip came out, wearing a towel around his waist. When Lee saw the extent of his friendís injuries he winced. "You sure youíre going to be able to put on some clothes with that."

"Jamieís going to come over to put something on it and cover it. It should be okay."

"Let me get my shower and weíll go get something to eat."

"Okay, Lee."

Lee headed into the shower and after completing his ablutions he wrapped himself in a towel and stepped outside the small bathroom. He found Dr. Jamison standing over the seated exec checking his eyes and ears. Chip also held a thermometer in his mouth. Lee continued to watch as Jamison spread ointment over his patientís back and covered it with sterile gauze. "Howís he doing, Jamie?"

Jamison finished his task before turning to Lee. "Of course, I would prefer that he stay here and rest, but as long as he takes it easy and he continues to take the antibiotics I gave him, he can go on light duty."

Chip sent a mock glare towards the doctor then took the thermometer from his mouth. "And what am I supposed to wear, Jamie?"

Jamison took the thermometer, read it then answered the question at hand. "I knew youíd ask that so I took the opportunity last night to get you some clothes from the shop downstairs." Jamison reached into a bag that was on the bed and held out a pair of black slacks and a polo shirt bearing the Hilton Head logo. He dropped them and a pair of slip-on shoes onto the bed.

"Itís these or nothing, and I donít think you want to go to the conference au natural."

"It would get me some sympathyÖsomething definitely lacking here."

"Harumphhh. You can cancel my invitation to your pity party."

Chip looked at the doctor then finally broke into a grin. "Thanks, Jamie. I do appreciate what youíve done."

"Thatís better. So Iíll see you two later at the center?"

Both men nodded and Lee turned to finish dressing. Chip stopped him.

"Sorry, Lee. I was out of line last night."

Lee looked into Chipís eyes to assess his physical state for himself. Seeing that he appeared to be fine, he answered. "Itís forgotten. We have a lot to do today, so letís get going. Give me another five."

Chip nodded then both men dressed quickly and in a little more than five minutes they headed out the door.

"Letís go to the buffet downstairs then we can go for a walk down by the beach to talk."

"Never let it be said I turned down a good buffet, sir."

Lee smiled, knowing well that Chip had a hearty appetite, and that he had not eaten much for several days. True to his word, Chip made the most of the buffet and easily polished off a heaping plateful. Lee grabbed a bagel, placed an egg on it and grabbed a large coffee. Once both had finished their meal, they headed for the beach.

 

****

 

The public beach was less than a block from the hotel and the pair found it already dotted with people trying to escape the summer heat and humidity. There was a slight breeze blowing off the ocean and the friends found a spot that took advantage of it and there they stood and talked.

"I never thought weíd have to sneak around in our own country to discuss business," said Chip.

"Tell me about it. Iíve had it with pay phones, double and triple agents, interagency squabbles and the whole lot!"

The two men laughed then without apology Lee began to tell Chip what he knew about what had happened, leaving out only non-essential details. Chip grinned as Lee repeated his speech to the Marine guard on duty at the boathouse on Parris Island. He became more somber as discussion returned to the conspiracy. "Admiral Mandel is at the heart of a cover-up of what happened to you and the admiral. He sure set me up, even used Admiral Johnsonís name. No doubt he knows exactly what those scientists are involved in. The CNO is now aware of what happened and is keeping tabs. I donít think Mandel will be around to bother us much longer."

"I thought he would be gone after the last cruise, but I suppose it takes more than one incident to effect a change. I do wonder if my so-called rescue and release was under his control."

"Yes, I suspect he was. You were roughed up a bit more than the admiral, and it was pretty risky to put you in a hot trunk."

Chip nodded in agreement. "So what other loose threads are there?"

"As it stands now, we have been unable to locate Martin Reece. We donít really know if he had a part. He hasnít been seen since he checked into his hotel on Monday evening. He even missed his scheduled talk. Cranford and Seers thought he was also a kidnap victim but Iím not quite so convinced. ONI was looking into his association with Teller. They had a lot of things in common."

"I agree. His recent research involved sound masking in critical incidents. She also researched critical incidents."

"We also donít know who has working on the inside at the security office. ONI has been staying close. I saw one of Mandelís men at the center, near the security office last evening.

"So what are we going to do now?"

Lee suddenly got a feeling they were being watched and put a finger up to his lips. He casually turned towards the condo building closest to where they stood and caught a glimpse of a man, one whose face he had seen before but couldnít quite place. He quietly relayed to Chip what he saw and they made a plan to trap the man. Lee walked slowly towards the path that led from the condos to the beach while Chip moved down the beach a little further and took a second path inland. Lee walked close to where the man had hunkered down and passed him, keeping his eyes straight ahead. As the man began to follow Lee from a distance, Chip came up from behind. "Donít move a muscle or Iíll drop you where you stand," he said, his voice as hard as stone. Chip stepped around to face the man and held his pistol pointed at the center of the manís chest as he ordered him to the ground. The man complied and was soon face down, with arms out and legs crossed at the ankles. By then Lee had returned and upon reaching the man he grabbed his hair to look at his face. "You!"

 

****

 

Though they didnít show it, Lee and Chip were both stunned by what they were hearing from the man now seated next to Lee in the back of the car. The security guard known as Nunn, the same man who had transported the injured Chip to the Beaufort clinic in his pickup truck was now detailing what he knew of the kidnappings, including his own actions. After he had identified himself, Lee had strongly encouraged him to come clean and told him to start at the beginning.

Aware that high risk visitors would be attending the acoustics conference, Nunn had attempted to convince his supervisors to beef up security. When his ideas were rejected he did some extra checking on his own, even going as far as obtaining a list of persons attending the meetings so he could identify the most at-risk guests. While monitoring the cameras on Tuesday he heard the alarm to the auditorium dock doors sound, and observed several men in fatigues standing outside. He then saw three men being practically shoved outside and he knew one of them was the famed Admiral Harriman Nelson. Knowing that something wasnít right, he raced down to the dock just in time to see a white panel van pull away from the loading area. He was able to jot down the tag number on the back of his hand before the van disappeared from view.

Lee interrupted. "Do you happen to remember the tag?"

Nunn nodded and Chip pulled out paper and pen from his pocket and wrote down the information. Lee then told Nunn to continue. The guard explained that when he went back inside and tried to enter the auditorium he found it locked. He was unable to gain entrance until the lecture was over.

"Who was assigned to secure that room, Mr. Nunn?" asked Lee.

"Carter. He assigned it to himself."

Lee nodded in recognition. "Boltís assistant," he added for Chipís benefit. Nunn further explained how he had called Carter on his radio and was told that things were under control, that what he saw was a part of a scientistís demonstration and to think nothing of it. Nunn was suspicious and waited for the doors to open up. When the people who first walked out of the auditorium were laughing and joking, he figured Carter must have been telling the truth. That was until a number of them started to complain of sudden headaches. When he went into the room Teller was packing up her equipment, and she and the male scientist, one that Lee assumed was Reece, were arguing.

"What about?" asked Chip as he slid into the front passenger seat.

"Something about transporting their prize."

The Seaview officers exchanged questioning looks.

"I didnít catch what they were referring to. At that point I saw Carter walk up to the stage area carrying the tape recorder and I heard him ask Teller if it was hers, and she said no. When Carter put it down to help her gather up her equipment I grabbed it and took off. "

"Go on," prodded Lee.

"I was on my way over to see one of my cop friends to check on the tag and by dumb luck I ended up behind the van headed north. I followed it to a business park up in Burton and I sat and watched the commander here and the other two men being dragged through the back door into a business called Soun-D-Zyne Studios."

"Do you have the address of this studio?"

"No, I donít think the address is marked on the building, but itís the only recording studio in Beaufort County."

Lee turned to Chip. "See what you can find out." While he truly needed the information, there were a few questions he wanted to ask the man in private.

Chip climbed out of the car and walked a short distance away to use the satellite radio. Lee quickly began to reel off question after question.

"Youíve been following me. Why?"

"Believe it or not, I was trying to protect you!"

"So you shove me into a trailer?" Lee asked, as he rubbed the side of his head where he had impacted the metal frame. It was still quite sore.

"I donít know what youíre talking about."

"Right," Lee said, sarcastically. "Why were you following us just now?" "

"One of the men who took your admiral was hanging around your hotel this morning."

"You arenít even armed. Why didnít you just contact me?"

"I thought I could handle things without getting directly involved."

"Why?"

"Two dead officers. Three men snatched from a science conference in front of an audience and no one remembers anything. A very bizarre tape recording that sounded like a mind control experiment. If you want to know what theyíre capable of just look at what they did to the commander. Heíd have died out there."

"And you felt it was okay to stick him in a trunk?"

Nunn sat quietly.

"All right, I need details. You gained access to our flying sub and left the book?"

"Yes."

"I trained at Parris, I know my way around."

Lee nodded. "Where did you find the briefcase?"

"In the trash at the edge of the business park near the studio. I went scouting after dark. Thatís how I found the commander."

"No uniforms? Papers?"

"No."

"And you left the tape recorder?"

"I left it withÖa friend and that friend left if for you."

"Did you see Admiral Nelson or the man who was brought in with him again?"

"No."

"Youíre sure?"

"Yes, Iím sure."

"Do you know what they did to those men, I mean exactly?"

"No."

"So you never got inside the studio to see what they were doing?"

"No."

"You were scared?"

There was a long silence before the guard responded. "No, Commander, at least not for me. I figured I could help without exposing myself or my family. Then my wife received a callÖa warning from an Admiral Johnson. He said to tell me to mind my own business. Maybe I should have listened to him. Fortunately, I sent them away before anything happened to them. You heard about what happened to my house?"

Lee was barely holding in his anger as he climbed out of the car and slammed the door. While he was peeved at Nunn for the way he handled things, he knew that Admiral Mandel was equally culpable. He walked over to where Chip stood.

"What is it Lee?"

Lee shook his head, indicating he was not ready to discuss his concerns. "What did you find out?"

"The studio is one of those that can be leased by the hour by aspiring musicians. It seems that the whole week was booked in advance by man namedÖ get thisÖ Reece Marvin. He paid in cash and has the studio until tomorrow."

"No coincidence, Iím sure. And the tag?"

"Comes back to a James Carter in Beaufort."

"No surprise there either." Lee nodded. "Very well, drop me off at the center. I need to talk to the admiral. You stay with Nunn. Probably best if you keep him out of sight for now. Iíll let you know when we decide what to do with him."

Chip acknowledged his orders and in a few minutes the men arrived at the convention center. Lee jumped out, entered the building and rapidly climbed the stairs to the second floor. He paused when he reached the monitoring station where Sparks was closely watching the screens. Lee inquired if the officer had heard from the admiral and Sparks handed him a piece of paper.

"Yes, sir, he left this message."

Lee glanced at his watch. "Itís almost 1030 hours now. Iíll be waiting for him in the conference roomÖ after I get some coffee."

 

****

 

The men at work at the monitoring station as well as the security staff stared in disbelief as the admiral, a television reporter and her cameraman in full regalia paraded past them. When the group entered the small conference room in the security suite they found a very surprised Lee, who sprang up from his perch on the edge of the table.

The admiral quickly made introductions.

"Cecily Jones, Jon Shedd, this is Commander Lee Crane."

Lee politely shook the outstretched hands then the room became eerily silent.

"Lee, letís go outside for a moment."

Once they were in the hallway both looked around then began a whispered but tense conversation.

"Sir, a news crew?"

"Relax Lee. The CNO cleared us to do whatever is needed to wrap this up. He told Mandel to pull his men out and to let NCIS handle the rest. I spoke with Admiral Johnson early this morning and I assured him we would handle it but if we needed their help we would ask. Fat chance that. I am handling this as I see fit."

"But Admiral, a civilian? Thatís pretty risky."

"But necessary, Lee. Miss Jones is no fragile flower. She and I have been friends for a number of years. I knew her father quite well. He worked with me on some of my earlier projects. And our Mr. Shedd is with NCIS."

After hearing the last bit of information Lee dropped his shoulders and released some of the tension he had been holding. "I have some news for you, too. We found the missing security guard or should I say he found us. He was a witness to the kidnapping and can help us identify the men who took you. We also found out that he can show us where you were taken."

"Thatís good news. Where is he now?"

"Off with Chip. Itís not safe for him here."

The admiral thought for a long minute, and it was apparent he was strategizing, so Lee didnít interrupt.

"This will work. Letís go talk to the news crew then weíll see about icing this cake."

 

****

 

"You sure had me fooled, Miss Jones. I thought you were trying to do an expose," Lee said with a shy grin.

"Well, Commander, in a sense I was. I heard through a friend at NIMR that Harry was going to be here and I wanted to get in touch with him, to say hello. I reported on the story of the officers who were found on the beach. When I got here and heard that he hadnít been seen I got worried and started to ask a lot of questions. Jon here identified himself and told me to be careful and not let anything out, that there was a lot going on that I didnít know about. You see, I knew what my Dad didÖhis so called projects. I was a good researcher even then." Jones paused and watched Lee intently for a few moments and he stared back at her. "I know this is hard to believe but it is possible to be a reporter and to be one of the good guys. Iím not naÔve about what goes on and I understand the need for silence on occasion. You can trust me, Commander."

Lee nodded slowly. If Admiral Nelson could trust the woman, then he really had no cause to do otherwise. The NCIS agent had also provided her with classified information as well. "So why exactly are you here, now?"

Jones looked over at the admiral, who answered the question for her.

"She is going to interview Dr. Teller. She already made the appointment for 1400 hours."

"Sir?"

"Think about it, Lee, Teller has to be proud of her accomplishments. She thinks she got away with the ultimate experiment. She wonít turn down a chance to prove to whoever she is working for that she is as cool as they come."

"What will interviewing her for television get us? Sheís not likely to say a word about what she actually did."

The admiralís lips curved into a satisfied smile as he cocked his head. "While sheís in the interview, NCIS will be serving a search warrant on her lab at the university. While they gather whatever evidence they can that shows her connection to the experimentation and to the Peopleís Republic, Miss Jones is going to casually mention to Teller that she heard a "rumor" about a search of her lab. Then Iím going to drop by unannounced, and see if I can shaker her up a bit."

Lee couldnít help but grin at the picture being painted by his creative CO.

"Arrangements have already been made to hold the interview in an isolated hallway of the center, one in full view of the buildingís cameras. Sheddís men are working on setting up additional surveillance. NCIS will handle the security of the hallway, but I put Shaw on keeping our Mr. Carter busy with a few, letís say, minor emergencies."

"What about Bolt?"

"I had Gordon run all the checks on him and there was nothing to show he is anything but what he appears to be."

"I agree heís been helpful but I donít want to take any chances that heíll tip off anyone to our plan." Lee thought for a moment then suddenly snapped his fingers. "Why donít we get Jamie to take him to lunch, to thank him for his help? We would really only need him to be distracted for about an hour."

It was the admiralís turn to smile. "Good idea, Lee. It might give the good doctor a new perspective on our intelligence work."

"Iím afraid that he already had a taste of it when we were returning from Beaufort. I hope he doesnít hold it against us, if you know what I mean."

Lee wanted to be present to see the fireworks likely to erupt when Teller was cornered but there was also an urgent need to know the whereabouts of Dr. Janek. Everyone agreed it was best that Lee, his men and several NCIS agents raid the sound studio simultaneous with the interview. The admiral and the news crew were discussing the details of the various questions that would be posed to the scientist as Lee left to prepare for the search. He contacted Chip and the exec informed him that Nunn had provided detailed descriptions of each of the men he thought were involved in the kidnapping. Chip suggested to Lee that the pair head for the Beaufort County sheriffís office to allow Nunn to put everything he knew in writing and to allow Chip to enlist their help with the search of the studio.

"They know the people and they know the area. From what you told me, they are also not involved with ONI, and to me thatís the best reason of all."

Lee hesitated to involve the locals, but he had to admit that Chip was right in his assessment of the situation. "Very well, Chip. See if theyíll keep Nunn there in protective custody until everyone is rounded up and you stay with him. Heís a very valuable package and we donít want to lose him too."

Lee was satisfied that things were falling into place but he was not about to leave anything to chance. He checked and double checked his equipment, and drilled his men on how the search would proceed. As it neared 1300 hours he and his team headed north.

****

Promptly at 1400 hours Marie Teller strolled up to the waiting reporter. She was dressed in a crisply pressed black business suit that was in stark contrast to her platinum blonde hair. Her sensible shoes matched the briefcase she carried in her left hand.

"I am Doctor Marie Teller."

Jones greeted the woman and reached to shake her hand but the handshake was not reciprocated.

"I was told that this was going to be a feature interview."

"It is, Dr. Teller. Thatís why we set up a special area for it. We want to get good sound and no interference from passing foot traffic. The lighting here will be less harsh donít you think? "

Teller looked around. "I suppose," she said haughtily.

The reporter and agent set up their camera, fine-tuned the lighting, and attached a microphone as their subject smoothed her hair and clothing. Once she indicated she was set, Jones began her questions. The first ones were intended to stroke Tellerís ego and as expected, she bragged incessantly about her work. Predicting it would have worldwide applications, she provided numerous examples. When she began to repeat herself, Jones interrupted.

"Dr. Teller, I understand that in your lecture here you asked people to pretend they were emergency responders and to try to interpret what they were hearing while blindfolded. What did you learn from that?"

The scientist stared at the reporter. "I did no such demonstration. You must have received poor information."

"Some of your audience reported that they had headaches after attending your talk. Was that related to your demonstration?"

"There is nothing to say. I told you that you were misinformed. Is there anything else that you wish to ask me about my research projects?"

"Before we move on to thoseÖ Doctor Teller, we have heard reports that several people were kidnapped from the auditorium during your demonstration. Do youÖ"

"What is this about?" she asked coolly.

"And that as we speak agents are searching your lab for evidence to use againstÖ"

"This interview is over!" The woman stood and barreled past the journalist. Agent Shedd grabbed up the camera and followed, trying to record every action. Just then a familiar figure stepped out from a nearby alcove and blocked her passage. "Nelson!" she practically shrieked.

"Dr. Teller, you havenít answered the questions."

 

****

 

After meeting up briefly in a parking lot outside the small town of Burton, a caravan of one marked sheriffís car and four unmarked sedans moved towards their target. Soun-D-Zyne was one of several small businesses in a nondescript single story building at the back of the six building park. Upon arrival at the front entrance, two cars peeled off to approach from behind the business as the sheriffís car and the remaining two sedans pulled up to the front door.

Though he desperately wanted to charge into the building, Lee understood the search was not his show. The only way to ensure justice would be served on the traitorous ONI agents and scientists was to let the locals and NCIS follow established procedures. From a position behind his car, he and the ratings watched the uniformed deputy, Detective Cranford and three NCIS agents approach the entrance to the business. The party met with a locked door. After peering inside the glass and seeing no one, the uniformed deputy began to yell. "Deputy Sheriff! Search warrant! Open up!" The announcement was followed by several raps on the glass.

There was no response to either the shouts or the knocking so Cranford pulled out his radio and called to Seers, who had been among those covering the rear door. "10-4. Force entry!"

Lee immediately heard the pounding of a battering ram on the back door. The men at the front pulled their guns, prepared to stop anyone attempting to flee their way. It took nearly two minutes to breach the door and another few to check for occupants but eventually Lee could see Seers and the agents in the front office area. Seers stepped over and unlocked the door, then stuck his head out and shouted to Lee.

"Commander, you need to see this!"

Lee, Kowalski and Patterson entered the business and were led to an area towards the back of the suite. Seers pointed into one of the sound proof rooms and the men looked in. There, lying on a cot in the corner of the room and wearing a set of high quality headphones was the body of a man. Despite his state of decomposition Lee recognized him and scowled. "I guess we have an answer to one question."

 

****

 

"You havenít answered the question, Dr. Teller. What did you do in that auditorium?"

Teller grabbed her briefcase and swung it at the admiral, hitting him in the knee. Nelson grabbed the case from her and slung it across the floor then attempted to stop her from reaching into her suit jacket for what he thought was a gun. He twisted her right arm behind her back and jerked it up as two armed agents arrived to assist. Eventually she was handcuffed and the admiral thrust his hand into her inside jacket pocket and extracted a square metal object.

"Care to explain this, Dr. Teller?" he asked as he held up the special hand-held radio. "Since it is one of only four known to exist, and two of them are in my safe, I can only guess at how you obtained it."

As the woman struggled to break free of her captors she was able to land several kicks on the shins of each of the agents. With some difficulty they managed to return her to her chair and hold her there until additional agents arrived with shackles, ready to transport her to a federal detention center. However, no restraints could stop her from making threats. "You and your men will regret this Nelson! I will not be treated like a common criminal. I am going to sue you for all that youíre worth!" Though she never admitted to participating in anything sinister, her struggle to escape custody demonstrated she had something to hide. This time her actions were all recorded, in living color with sound by agent Shedd.

As Teller glared at him, the admiral was handed a radio and notified that Lee was trying to reach him. He moved short distance away from the scientist and held a short conversation with the captain. Once he signed off he whispered something to Shedd then walked over to where Teller was seated. He now returned the womanís glare with one of his own. "It seems we can add another charge of murder to your list of offenses, Doctor."

****

 

Lee stood by and waited while the body of Martin Reece was removed from the studio. His search for evidence of any experimentation or the location of Ellison Janek then began in earnest. While there were no papers relative to Teller, Reece or any of their activities, some of their equipment was apparently still in place. He studied the instruments and recognized them to be sound generators, similar to those used to synthesize electronic music. He scanned the dials and turned on the master switch and the needles on the various gauges began to flutter. He then picked up a set of headphones, plugged them into the instrument and held them up to one ear. As he moved various knobs on the console he listened but there was no sound akin to what he had heard on the tape from the auditorium. After several minutes of flipping switches he put the headset down and turned to leave the room. He would have his men disconnect the instruments and leave them for NCIS to examine further.

As Lee passed the doorway, he noticed a thin metal wire leading from beneath the light switch plate. Visually tracing it he found it threaded through a hole in the back of one of the instrument panels. Curious as to what the wire was for he removed the front panel of the instrument and peered inside. It didnít take long for him to reach a conclusion. Resting in the rear corner was what appeared to be a bomb with a timer attached. When the light had been switched on, the timer had been activated and the display indicated they had less than twenty seconds to escape.

"Everyone get out NOW!!"

Once he was sure that everyone had complied, Lee raced for the nearest exit. He barely had time to clear the front door when he heard a loud roar and the shock wave from a large explosion bowled him over. As debris from the building rained down he struggled to rise and tried to maintain consciousness. Patently disoriented, he momentarily closed his eyes. When he again opened them he was staring into the face of seaman Kowalski.

"Skipper, Skipper. Are you alright?"

The rating was mouthing the words and he could see but not hear them. Jumbled thoughts began to flit through his mind. Often in a crisisÖaffects hearingÖhear what we want to hearÖ. As he drifted towards darkness he had one thought that made him chuckle. Trust the instrumentsÖyeah, right.

 

****Two days later

 

Lee had been transported to a hospital in Savannah for treatment of his injuries. In trying to break his fall he had snapped several of the small bones in his hand and his head had impacted the pavement, resulting in a brief loss of consciousness. The treating physician and Jamison had encouraged him to stay under care for at least a couple of days.

Now he sat propped up in the bed with his right hand in a cast and the right side of his head and face covered in bandages. He was bruised and sore but thankful that he was not more severely injured. Fortunately, the rest of the men at the studio had escaped relatively unharmed and that bit of news helped him rest more easily in his captivity.

The admiral occupied the visitorís chair of the private room as the two discussed the investigation. New information had been garnered from interviews with several of the minor players in the plot that allowed NCIS to pick up three turncoat agents and four of their accomplices. Teller remained smug and silent throughout her interrogation, providing nothing to explain what had been done to the kidnapped men or her audience. There was still no news of the sonar researcher, Janek. He had simply disappeared.

"I was able to confirm with Admiral Johnson that there was no ransom demand. Oh, he also mentioned that the retirement paperwork for a certain admiral is being rushed through."

Lee smiled as broadly as his injuries would allow.

"You know, Lee, Janekís loss is a lesson for us all. We need to make security much tighter around anyone with knowledge of our advanced technology. After what happened to him and to us, we need to look at carrying some type of tracking device at all times.""

Lee looked skeptically at his CO.

The admiral raised both hands. "All right, I will admit it wonít solve everything."

"No, Admiral, I agree in principle but there is a down side to being tracked at all times."

The admiral smiled. "Thatís something we can discuss after I design the devices. I certainly donít want to cramp your style."

Lee smiled briefly before turning deadly serious. "Itís not that. Itís useful for us to know where an agent might be but what if the enemy gains access to that information and is ready and waiting when our man arrives? Or what if they capture an agent and heís brainwashed and turns on us, like your Manchurian candidate."

"Of course, Lee, weíll need to make provisions for Ö"

At that moment Chip walked into the room. Lee knew that after he himself had been injured his friend had put in two long days wrapping things up. He briefly considered asking his friend about his condition, since he hadnít fully recovered from his experience with Teller but knowing Chip would not appreciate being asked in front of Nelson he settled for a status report.

"Police and mission reports are complete, the equipment is packed up and the men are headed for the air station. That is, all but Jamie. Heís staying on to escort you back personally, sir."

Lee scowled and the admiral and Chip both chuckled at his reaction. Before long Lee, too, was grinning. Chip checked his watch and pointed to the TV. "Sirs, the evening news will be starting in a few minutes."

With a wave of his hand the admiral gave permission to turn on the set. "Miss Jones spent nearly twenty-four hours being debriefed. This should be interesting."

Lee nodded in agreement as Chip flipped to the correct channel. As the news anchor introduced the lead story all three men turned their heads in unison towards the television. The familiar face of Cecily Jones soon appeared on screen.

"Thousands of people attended the acoustic sciences conferences here in Hilton Head last week and while most were learning about the latest sound research and seeing demonstrations of the latest technologies, criminals were making off with a very large and very expensive piece of sound equipment. Once the theft was reported, federal, state and local officials descended on the conference center to try and locate the item which was taken from the loading dock of the auditorium. Those officials spent a significant amount of time speaking with potential witnesses and looking for evidence, even interrupting some of the planned activities. While authorities refuse to be specific about what was taken and to tell us itís exact value, they did tell us that they have made significant headway in the investigation and several arrests have been made. We will keep you updated as things develop. Reporting from Hilton Head Island Ö"

Once the segment was over, Chip excused himself and left the room to get some coffee. The admiral and Lee remained silent for several minutes. Lee knew his CO was thinking about the implications of the whole affair. Lee had his own concerns.

"Admiral, do you think itís all over?"

The admiral turned to face Lee, cocked his head and sighed. "Not by a long shot, Lee, not by a long shot."

 

Finis Ö..

 

* NOC-non-official cover

** see Contingencies

 

"Beaufort" is pronounced bew-furt (not bow-furt) by the locals. The military installations referred to in the story are the ones that were in existence in the early 1980s.

 

Comments welcome at sherlockette@earthlink.net

 

 

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