NIMR Reports is a Fan Fiction Magazine on the World Wide Web for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea starring Richard Basehart and David Hedison
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
by Debbie Post
Copyright October 31, 1997
Third Revised Shooting Final
Kowalski did his best to clean the blood from the ugly gash over Riley's left eye.
"C'mon, Stu--hold still."
"Ski, this is a bad scene. What are we gonna do?" Riley complained to the experienced seaman. "That Major Perez said Seaview sailed without us, that the Skipper told the local fuzz we were AWOL."
As senior rating and a plank owner of the submarine SSRN Seaview, Kowalski knew the cell's other four occupants were looking to him for leadership. He could feel their tense gazes upon him.
But what could he do? What had started out a pleasant 24-hour shore liberty had ended with Riley, Patterson, Rodriguez, Jenkins and himself in a filthy little cell in a filthy little jail in a filthy little village outside the port town of San Dominguez. On trumped up charges of marijuana possession, too. They were in serious trouble. Kowalski took a deep breath to voice his conclusions. Four pairs of eyes widened hopefully.
"We are in serious trouble."
The men fell back in unified despair, muttering: "Oh, man, Ski--like tell us something we don't know." "You're the idea man-how about it?" "Oh, Blessed Mother, pray for us." "Why'd the Skipper leave us here?" This last was practically a wail from Riley.
Kowalski couldn't blame him--of them all, Riley had been beaten the worst. All because of a lucky upper cut he had planted on the Major of Police. And Ski hadn't liked the way two of the more burly, Neanderthal policemen had eyed the boyish Californian's blond, blue-eyed physique. Oh, man, it has really hit the fan. And to think I came along to keep these boys out of trouble. The Skipper's gonna skin me alive. Ski tried to comfort Riley.
"Hey, Stu, Seaview's on a tight schedule, you know?"
"But why? What's up? Are we--"
"Shut up, will ya, Stu?" Patterson finally took a hand in the conversation. "You know the kind of...of schedules we have to keep sometimes."
"Oh. Oh, yeah, Pat." Stu Riley's eyes widened as he realized Patterson's meaning. All the crew knew that Seaview often engaged in top secret intelligence missions for the United States government. Scuttlebutt had it that the Skipper himself was an agent for the Office of Naval Intelligence, or ONI. He sure disappeared on some mysterious errands from time to time. And Mr. Morton became a real pain in the posterior while the Skipper was off the boat--just worried, Riley guessed.
"Oh, man, I just do not dig this scene," groaned Riley. Since the Skipper had left them behind, unthinkable in ordinary circumstances, and had even set the local thugs on their trail like they were AWOL from some regular Navy ship, there must really be something hot cooking. And maybe the five of them had really blown it.
"The Skipper's gonna have us for breakfast," moaned Riley.
"Yeah. I just hope we haven't really messed up the Skipper's, uh, schedule," added Patterson.
"C'mon you guys. Can it! The Skipper will think of something. You know what he always says--Seaview takes care of her own."
"Yeah, the Skipper'll take care of us all right," put in the taciturn Jenkins. "Probably feed us to Mr. Morton."
The sailors shared a brief chuckle, then stopped abruptly. Anxious eyes roamed around the dimly lit, dirty cell. Would the Skipper even know where they were?
Kowalski settled back on the rough, plank bench and considered their predicament. It had all started when Rodriguez, a devout Catholic, had wanted to visit a famous shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe and, of all things, get his St. Christopher's medal blessed. The shrine was in a small village just a mile outside the port town of San Dominguez, and definitely off-limits to Seaview personnel. Rodriguez, the dark-haired, husky torpedo man, had convinced Patterson and Riley, both of whom were also Catholic, to come along. Patterson may have been motivated by piety. Riley just thought it would be a lark. Some lark! Somehow, Jenkins attached himself to the party--turned out he thought they were headed to some bar or bordello. Kowalski smiled to think how surprised Jenkins had been when Rodriguez had finally brought them to an honest to God shrine! Kowalski, against his better judgment, had gone along to keep the younger men out of trouble.
Out of trouble! Man, have I screwed up. That damn patrol would have to show up just as we were heading back! That joker in charge, Major Perez, really had it in for us. Really got a burr up his privates about Americans--probably angling for some kind of promotion.
Kowalski eyed Rodriguez. "Rod, all I can say is you better start praying with that medal of yours. I hope that shrine gave it some punch because we need help. Now."
To Kowalski's mild surprise, Rodriguez nodded seriously and turned to kneel in a corner of the fetid cell. Shrugging, Patterson moved over and stood behind him with bowed head.
"You and that damned medal!" snarled Jenkins. "This is all your fault--"
"Shut up, Jenkins," stated Patterson without heat.
"Ah, go f--- yourself, and your medal."
"Don't be irreverent, Jenkins," warned Patterson, turning his head to meet Jenkins' eyes.
Something firm and solid in Patterson's gaze made Jenkins suddenly back down. He slumped on the bench. "Ah, shit."
Kowalski watched the exchange warily. Satisfied that the boys had calmed down, he turned once again to examine the primitive jail. If only the Skipper were here. He'd have us out in a couple of minutes. The cells were essentially cages walled by vertical iron bars set in the stone of the floor and bolted to the heavy timbers of the ceiling. The Seaview crewmen were in a cage in the center row of cells, at the end nearest the police barracks. Two parallel corridors divided the jailroom into thirds, a row of cells down each stone wall and a shorter row up the center. Perhaps a dozen men shared their fate, broken and pitiful wretches, but the cells nearest them were empty. Just opposite their cell, high in the wall by the door leading to the police barracks, the only window showed the fading light of sunset. It glimmered like blood.
Kowalski shuddered. Twice now, a prisoner had been dragged out through that door. One had been returned, bleeding and sobbing. The other, after a terrible hour filled with screams, had not. A policeman had returned alone and removed the man's few, pitiful possessions from the now empty cell.
A jail break was simply hopeless. They only had their bare hands. Not even an ounce of plastic explosive or a laser picklock. Kowalski stood in frustration.
"C'mon, Skipper." Kowalski's voice was a murmur. "Put us on KP for the rest of the cruise, but don't let us rot in this lousy place." For Kowalski, it was almost a prayer.
Night had fallen completely, mercifully shadowing the filth of the cells and the dejected occupants. Kowalski could dimly see into the other cells--mostly, the prisoners sat with head in hands, or lay listlessly. The beaten man had stopped sobbing now.
Suddenly, Kowalski's head snapped up. A commotion had started beyond the outer door.
Kowalski knew just enough Spanish to catch the meaning in the raised voices.
"Let me alone, you dogs!" thundered a voice laced with tequila. "What has poor Miguel done to you? You are swine and sons of swine--"
The sound of a fist hitting flesh stopped the tirade of the faceless Miguel.
"Learn respect for your betters, you drunken fool."
Kowalski shuddered at the malice in the voice of Major Perez.
Now the unseen Miguel sobbed pitifully, "Please, senor Major. Do not treat a poor fisherman this way. My wife, my babies," the voice continued to whine about a whole pantheon of relatives.
Kowalski felt slightly disgusted. Granted the state police in this godforsaken little country held life and death power over the peasants, but had this Miguel no pride?
"Enough!" Major Perez seemed to share Kowalski's distaste. "Throw him in number four. I will deal with him in the morning."
Keys rattled in the iron lock of the outer door. Vaguely curious to see the latest inmate of this hell-hole, Patterson came to stand beside Kowalski at the bars facing the door while Rodriguez continued praying. Riley turned his roughly bandaged head to watch, but remained lying down, nursing his injuries. Jenkins merely turned a bored face to the door.
The keeper of this dungeon, Sergeant Baca, appeared first, keys dangling in his pudgy, dirty hand. Kowalski would have given all his shore liberty for a year to get within reach of those keys. But he had no opportunity.
After the fat, oily sergeant came the prisoner flanked by two burly policemen, each holding on to an arm of the reluctant Miguel. Alternating between threats and pleas, the clearly inebriated Miguel was half held up, half dragged into the jailroom.
Sergeant Baca clanked open the door of number four, just across from Kowalski's cell. The sergeant stood aside while Miguel was thrown brutally against the back wall of the cell.
Miguel hit the wall heavily and sank to his knees. Sergeant Baca swaggered forward and stood over the drunkard, smiling cruelly. "You drunken fool," he sneered. "By morning you will, perhaps, learn to curb your tongue--or have it pulled out at the roots."
"Please, senor Sergeant, do not harm poor Miguel, he--"
Sergeant Baca gave the kneeling man a vicious backhanded slap which sent him sprawling.
"Idiot! Now I go to my supper." With a gesture, he dismissed the policemen back into the barracks.
"But soon, I will return for your lessons." The obese officer licked his fleshy lips slightly, then wheeled and sauntered out, locking the cell door and then the outer door with a clash of iron on iron.
Kowalski and Patterson felt faintly sickened at this display of cruelty and cowardice. They exchanged sad glances and Patterson turned away. Riley resumed his study of the ceiling, Jenkins seemed to sink further into himself. Rodriguez had never ceased praying. Kowalski hesitated, but couldn't seem to take his eyes off the wretch in the cell opposite him. Miguel staggered to his feet and began to move haltingly about in his cell, muttering threats fueled by tequila.
Kowalski frowned at the man. Miguel appeared to be a middle-aged man and was dressed in the garb of the local fishermen. His dark, curly hair was starting to gray at the temples, and his mustache was full and bushy. He looked like he might be tall, but years of misery stooped his shoulders. Probably poor--maybe not enough to eat--the man looked underfed. Dirty and disheveled, Miguel was a sorry sight.
Miguel gradually became more belligerent as the immediate threat of the police receded in his sodden mind.
"Imbeciles!" he started to shout. "Swine! You've no right to lock Miguel up like a dog! Not for me to be caged with filthy criminals."
Miguel began pacing around his cell, peering through the bars at every square inch of the jailroom. He periodically shouted vile imprecations.
Miguel suddenly stopped, directly opposite Kowalski.
"What is this?" despised Miguel. "Filthy gringos! Miguel must occupy a jail filled with the offal of America!"
Miguel aimed his clear, hazel eyes directly into Kowalski's face, his expression completely at odds with his voice and words. Miguel winked.
Kowalski started. Could it be? No. Underneath the dirt and bruises and mustache, underneath the disreputable clothing, behind the stooped and cowardly posture . . . the Skipper?
Commander Crane, Captain of the SSRN Seaview, waited patiently until he saw the glimmer of recognition in Kowalski's surprised face. He waited a beat, then spoke in deliberately broken English.
"Americanos. You make me sick." Crane spat. "Are all the cells of all the jails contaminated with your filth?"
Crane smiled calmly and arched his eyebrows expectantly. Kowalski belatedly realized that the local prisoners could not see the supposed Miguel in the dim light, but only hear him.
"Listen, you, uh, you jerk!" began Kowalski uncomfortably. "All the Americans in this lousy village are right here in this cell. And if we could get our hands on you, you'd tell a different story." Kowalski let his voice become angry. Patterson shot him a puzzled look.
To Kowalski's delight, a look of relief brightened Crane's face. All crew accounted for. Next question.
"Big, brave words, gringo," scoffed Crane with just his voice. "Just wait--the police will soon teach you--they will beat you and flog you and . . . " Crane went on the describe various fiendish tortures which they could expect, with every evidence of ghoulish satisfaction.
"Shut up, old man," Kowalski retorted. "You're lying. Except for Riley, we've just got a few bruises."
At Crane's look of alarm at Riley's recumbent form, Kowalski quickly continued. "The swine just used Riley as a punching bag for a bit. Just for putting that bruise on their precious Major Perez."
Crane flashed Kowalski a look of sheer relief and approval. Not bad--there's a lot of fight in that young sailor. But is he ready to move out? Thank God Kowalski is with them-he picked right up on my cover. He's a good man. Now, let's find out about Riley.
"Ah, the poor gringo," mocked Crane.
"Listen, you. If Riley had a chance, he could come after you, all right."
Thank God. Very well, then. Phase one is accomplished right on schedule. Now for phase two. Crane considered the layout of the jailroom and barracks and surrounding streets.
Kowalski wondered at Crane. Geez, the Skipper sure acts like we're home free. With him and us still behind bars and guarded by a whole barracks full of police. Heck of a way to stage a jailbreak--get yourself thrown into jail with your men.
Puzzled as to what his Captain's plan might be, Kowalski looked deliberately at the locks on the cell doors and outer jail door and then back at the Skipper.
Grinning slyly, Crane held up his hand in a gesture of "wait". He pointed at his wrist and held up one finger.
"0100 hours," considered Kowalski. Yes, at one o'clock in the morning, the village should be nice and quiet.
Satisfied that Kowalski understood, Crane then returned to the persona of Miguel and indulged himself in the luxury of telling his men just what he thought of their escapade.
"Idiot, gringos! What kind of fools march around in broad daylight . . ."
Kowalski chaffed for a couple minutes under this indirect dressing down, then realized he was acting out of character.
"Shut up, old man!" Kowalski was not sure whether to enjoy or fear this rare opportunity to insult the Skipper. "Go back to your little boat and ugly wife and sniveling kids. Leave real men alone!"
Crane allowed his amusement to shine in his eyes. "Aha, American! You are not to be so fortunate. Miguel, he will not leave you alone here, eh? Young imbeciles!"
"Ski, will you knock it off? That poor old man ain't worth your time," complained Patterson at last.
Kowalski whispered, "It's the Old Man."
"Huh?" Patterson could not figure out why Kowalski was grinning at him. "What old man?"
"The . . . Old . . . Man." Kowalski nodded towards the cell opposite.
Patterson looked. "What do you think you're talking about, Ski? You--" A dumbfounded look settled across Patterson's face as his mind sorted out the face of his commanding officer from the facade of Miguel. Into Patterson's astonishment came the realization that his commanding officer was patiently regarding him with a mild smile.
Struggling to recover, Patterson dragged his eyes back to Kowalski. "Uh, c'mon, Ski. Let's, uh, hit the sack." He looked back at the Skipper for instructions.
Crane pointed deliberately at Patterson and Jenkins, then to his eyes, then to the outer door and other prisoners, then back at his eyes. "Keep a lookout" was the clear message.
"OK, OK, Ski, I understand--you can't sleep," came Patterson's acknowledgment of the order. "Have it your own way."
Patterson then gestured vaguely at the kneeling Rodriguez, and said neutrally, "Rodriguez is still at it. Do you think he should get some sleep?" Patterson looked expectantly at the Skipper.
Crane looked hard at Rodriguez, then seemed to realize the young sailor was praying. Crane seemed to ponder a moment, then put his own hands prayerfully together and nodded.
"Ah, leave the kid alone, Patterson," acknowledged Kowalski. "Why, uh, why don't you go see if Jenkins is all right."
Patterson sauntered into the dim rear of the cell and settled tiredly next to Jenkins. Soon Crane heard a sharp, "Hey, really?" followed by urgent shooshing noises and the start of furious whisperings. Clearly, Patterson was having some trouble passing the word quietly to the younger crewmen. They needed some cover.
Despite himself, Kowalski's jaw dropped when the Skipper started up a rowdy drinking song-in perfect, idiomatic Spanish--and kept time by slapping on the bars. I wouldn't have thought the Skipper knew that one. Kind of raunchy, too. I hope Rodriguez doesn't listen too closely.
Despite warnings from Patterson, Riley and Jenkins couldn't keep their eyes off this display of drunken revelry. Could that old souse honestly be their immaculate, disciplined Captain? The same Captain who had been hard on their case for an untidy work area during that snap inspection last week? Yet, occasionally they caught sight of the extremely clear, piercing gaze which the Skipper sent here and there around the jailroom, evaluating every bar, stone, bolt and prisoner. And this while staggering around drunkenly, singing, or muttering. There was clearly more to being an "agent" than they had had any idea.
Presently, Crane made a show of yawning prodigiously, stretching and scratching rudely. Then he shuffled to the back wall of his cell to the rough plank bench which served as the only bed. He slumped heavily onto it and gave every appearance of heavy sleep.
Minutes crawled by. Every little noise seemed magnified in the tense silence. From the direction of the barracks, Kowalski could just make out the clank of metal on metal, the scraping of chairs, a raucous voice. Minutes drifted into each other. Rats grew bold and scuttled along the walls.
Kowalski could barely breathe. He stood gripping the bars and staring across the corridor to where the recumbent form of Captain Crane was just visible. C'mon, Skipper. Let's get out of this hole. Kowalski closed his eyes, and rolled his head from side to side to ease the tension in his neck. He opened his eyes and found himself looking into the piercing gaze of his Captain, now standing silently at the door of his own cage.
Motioning Kowalski to wait, Crane focused a tight beam from the laser picklock he held in his hand. No bigger than a fountain pen, he had carried it concealed in his heavy fishing boots. He had come well prepared.
With a hiss and brief smell of hot metal, the door of his cell swung free. Easing his body through the door, he was careful to open it only enough to pass lest the creaking hinges draw attention. Quickly, he repeated the operation on the door of Kowalski's cell, yet motioned the men to remain as they were. Then Crane seemed to fade in and out of the shadows, reappearing flat against the wall under the solitary window and next to the outer door. Crane held his ear to the door for a long, breathless moment. Nodding to himself, he scaled the rough stone blocks of the wall, and worked on the bars and frame of the window.
Kowalski assumed the Skipper was applying some form of plastic explosive. But what good would that do? The police would surely spot them emerging from the window onto the barracks roof.
Finishing his task, Crane jumped lightly down from the wall, trailing a thin wire. He fitted it into a tiny electronic device which he positioned carefully on the floor. The device would be concealed should the outer door swing open.
Next, Crane placed small cylinders around the door frame, making small adjustments to each. Kowalski guessed some sort of magnetic fuzing would set off these devices. Stepping back to admire his work, Crane turned on his heel and returned to Kowalski. From the lining of his thick fisherman's jacket, Crane handed Kowalski five tightly rolled packages. He took a sixth and demonstrated how to put on the miniature gas mask. Satisfied that his crew were protected, Crane strode across to his own cell, entered, and faced Kowalski. "Well, Kowalski," he laughed. "Let's invite in our hosts!"
Kowalski jumped as the Skipper's words fairly reverberated off the stone walls. "Geez, Skipper, you'll have the whole place down on our head!"
"That's right, Kowalski," shouted the Skipper. "We need company. Now!"
With that, Crane began creating the sounds of a combination raucous brawl and disaster zone. Catching his intent, Kowalski began yelling for help at the top of his lungs. Patterson launched into mock fist fight with the hapless Jenkins while Rodriguez yelled for blessings on their souls. Weak from his beating, Riley did his best with catcalls and howls.
Kowalski kept his eyes on his Captain, ready on the cell doors. "Masks in place," yelled Crane above the cacophony, and saw that each man checked the fit of his mask. "Keep it up!"
Kowalski would never forget what happened next for the rest of his life.
The outer door burst open with the gross fury of Sergeant Baca, followed by a squad of police. The high pressure gas cylinders immediately enveloped all the militia in a white fog. The clinging gas quickly billowed both into the jail and out into the confined corridors of the barracks. The police barely had time to gasp before falling heavily.
"Patterson, secure the prisoners! Take their uniforms!" yelled Crane. "Kowalski, follow me!" Crane leapt over the fallen men and through the outer door, Kowalski at his heels. Crane paused momentarily to orient himself and handed Kowalski three of the M27 gas cylinders. "Down the hall to the right, officers country. Three doors--one cylinder each. I'll take the enlisted barracks." Crane disappeared left into the smoke-filled corridor.
Fighting his way half-blind up the corridor, Kowalski wondered how Crane knew. Coming to the first two doors which faced each other across the corridor, he cracked each open, activated and tossed in a gas cylinder. He heard brief sounds of struggles and then almost immediate silence. The last door was at the end of the corridor. Putting his hand on the handle to ease it forward, the door was suddenly jerked out of his grasp, pulling him slightly off balance. He found himself face to face with the hated Major Perez--and a .45 automatic. Kowalski froze--the muzzle of the weapon grew to fill his vision . . .
The sound of a shot thundered through the corridor. Kowalski felt the hot flash of powder burning him almost point blank, stinging the back of his neck. Sounds came one at a time: his heart pounding in his chest; the muffled voice of Patterson; the gurgle of blood. Before his eyes, the astonished Major Perez sank to his knees as if in prayer, then pitched over onto his face. Turning, Kowalski saw a tall, proud figure emerge from the white mist: the Skipper, and holding a rifle from the barracks armory. Kowalski sagged with relief.
* * *
"All right, fall to and let me have a look at you," snapped Crane.
Four luckless sailors fell into a line and came to full attention, uneasy in their "borrowed" uniforms. Riley stayed put in a chair, still too woozy to stand for long. They now occupied the main police office fronting on the central square of the village.
Facing them, Crane looked completely at ease and in command, even in the ill-fitting officer's uniform. He looked every inch the superior, cruel Major of Police in this godless little village. Kowalski marveled. Gone was the drunken fisherman. In his place stood a merciless military man.
"No, no," criticized Crane. "This is not the United States Navy. You have joined the ranks of a corrupt, ill-disciplined militia. Slump your shoulders. Look insolent."
The men attempted to follow these unusual orders, with varying degrees of success.
"Rodriguez, you look too Navy." Crane studied him as if he was a director and the seaman an actor in some bizarre play.
"You must be disreputable. Look surly, and make lewd comments to any women we encounter," ordered Crane curtly.
"Oh, sir. I couldn't do that. I just couldn't." The devout Rodriguez was aghast.
"What?!" Crane eyed Rodriguez narrowly. "Wait--you're Catholic, right?" As Captain, Crane had to be cognizant of the religious affiliations of his men.
Crane sighed. "Then look bored and slovenly. Let me see you walk."
Doing his best to look disreputable, Rodriguez slouched slowly back and forth across the room.
"Perfect. Do that exactly when we leave this building." Crane turned to Kowalski.
"Know any Spanish, Kowalski?"
"A little, sir."
"Try this phrase." Crane said a simple sentence.
Rodriguez appeared shocked.
Kowalski dutifully repeated it, trying to make his accent authentic.
"Good," approved Crane. "You shall look surly, and make lewd comments to any women we pass. Just leer at them and repeat that sentence. It is extremely offensive and will lend credibility to our disguise. Any problems with that, sailor?"
Kowalski shrugged. "No, sir."
"Good. Believe me," Crane relented, "it is necessary."
"Yes, sir. I understand, sir." Anything to get us out of this mess, added Kowalski to himself.
"Patterson, just look mean. Yes, that's it. Let that New Yorker in you come to the surface and stay there."
Crane pulled out a small tube from his jacket lining and turned to the two remaining men. "Jenkins. Riley. You two are a problem."
Jenkins and Riley looked worried.
"Too blond. Hold out your hands." Crane squeezed an evil looking dark paste into their upturned palms. "Rub this dye thoroughly through your hair. You are about to become brunettes."
Looking thoroughly unhappy, Riley hesitated and then reluctantly began smearing the dye through his fair hair. He hoped it would wear off before he hit the surf at Santa Barbara.
Jenkins immediately and vigorously scrubbed his palms through his hair. He was a brunette in seconds.
"Your eyes are all wrong, too blue. We can't do anything about that now. However, you must not look at anyone. Look at the ground, Patterson's back, at me, anything. You-will-not-look-anyone-in-the-eye. Clear?"
Jenkins and Riley quickly yes-sired.
"Let me see you walk. You, too, Riley. It's only for a short ways, son. Remember, you are ill-disciplined, ill-treated wretches. You despise me, you despise this town, you despise yourselves."
Crane watched a moment, then nodded in satisfaction at the motley gang of thugs before him.
"All right. Prepare to move out."
This time, the men fell into a properly ill-formed line, alternately swaggering or slouching as Crane had coached them.
Crane quickly took up the jailroom keys, disappeared for a moment into the cell block, then reemerged. He shut and locked the door.
At Kowalski's questioning glance, Crane explained, "I gave the keys to a member of the resistance. Soon all the inmates will be escaping through the window and over the roof tops. Time for us to leave."
Crane strode arrogantly out the door and across the square without a pause. He led his squad boldly into and through a maze of crooked lanes.
Kowalski cringed. What about shipping out quietly, say, hug the shadows a little? The Skipper might as well wave a flag. And yet--no one paid them any mind. In fact, the few peasants they saw took great pains to avoid them. Certainly no one examined them closely. I get it, thought Kowalski. We're the bad guys. We're in plain sight, but out of sight. We might as well be invisible.
Kowalski spied an off-duty waitress, and suspected that Crane deliberately swerved to intercept her. Here goes, thought Kowalski. He grabbed at her arm and spoke the sentence. Her reaction was immediate. She spun, pure fury in her eyes, hand raised to slap. Then, her eyes glanced over his uniform and his companions, and her expression crumpled into fear and loathing. Not once did she really look at his face. Kowalski felt his heart fall into his boots.
Fortunately for Kowalski, Crane waited only a beat before snapping a curt order in Spanish. Kowalski guessed at the meaning, and turned angrily away from the woman, as if reprimanded by his commander. They continued briskly through the streets, and the woman was left behind in the shadows. To his undying relief, Kowalski had no further opportunity to embarrass himself.
At a nondescript street corner, Crane halted the men with a gesture, stepped off the curb, imperiously raised his arm and blew a police whistle.
"Settle down," whispered Kowalski at the alarmed looks exchanged by the younger crewmen. "No one is looking at us. We're the local goon squad. Everyone's trying to avoid us, not the other way around."
The men gradually relaxed as the truth of his statement sank in.
A half-ton police truck rolled up with a clashing of gears.
How we gonna fool the driver? wondered Kowalski. To his astonishment, the figure that materialized from the cab was none other than Seaview's Chief Sharkey, complete in a local sergeant's uniform.
The Chief looked pleased to see them, then forced his amiable features into a scowl.
Crane gave loud and complex instructions to Sharkey-in Spanish. Without a glimmer of comprehension, the Chief nevertheless saluted Crane smartly, and climbed back into the driver's seat.
Crane merely pointed to the back and his men piled in, eager to escape this miserable little village at last.
The truck roared off into the night.
Chief Sharkey maneuvered the truck out past the last buildings of the village and north up the coast, away from the village and the port of San Dominguez. They entered a region where the inland mountains tumbled down into the sea. Too rough for farms on the land and too rocky for boats to find decent harbor, the land was empty of human habitation. Only a few military fortresses dotted the higher peaks to command a view of the ocean and coastal roads.
Crane turned and pulled back the window and curtain separating the cab from the men in back.
"Riley, how badly are you injured?"
"They worked me over some, Skipper, but I'm OK. Just bruised. A lot."
"Kowalski?" Crane sought confirmation.
"Well, Riley's pretty sore, Skipper, but I don't think there's anything broken. We all have some bruises from when we first ran into that patrol, but they didn't hurt us--not really."
"Very well." Crane could not keep the deep relief he felt out of his voice. The sailors heard it, and exchanged proud, confident glances. Of course the Skipper had come for them. No problem! A broad grin split Kowalski's face.
"What in blazes were you playing at--getting arrested on drug charges?" thundered Crane. "Do you realize what a devil of a time I had finding you?! Do you?!"
The sailors immediately retreated behind innocent or stoic expressions.
"Now listen up and listen good. You-you sea puppies had better realize that those cretins back in San Dominguez would have tortured and killed you without hesitation. They are animals--no respect for human life. This country has time and again violated the most basic human rights principles--international protests have done nothing. They have even arrested and imprisoned priests who have done nothing but speak out. You were very, very lucky."
None of the sailors dared utter a word in the face of their Captain's wrath. Yet, the glances they exchanged were rueful, not fearful. The Skipper was so obviously worried sick over them--and was mad as hell in consequence. Kowalski had seen it all before.
"Skipper, we-" Kowalski began.
"Never mind that now. You can tell it all to Mr. Morton, in detail, when you return to Seaview. You're all on report." Crane waited a moment for his anger to cool. "All right, listen up. We're pressed for time."
What gives? wondered Kowalski. It's still the middle of the night, for Pete's sake. There sure ain't no one coming after us yet-maybe not even until morning, no way. The local Gestapo is down and out for the count.
"Springing a bunch of irresponsible sailors is NOT the reason for Seaview's presence in these waters, I assure you. You five are hardly my primary mission objective for tonight. That is yet to come."
Patterson looked at Kowalski. Uh-oh. Sounds like the Skipper's still in for it. We have messed up the Skipper's "schedule".
"As a consequence," continued Crane brusquely, "Patterson, Riley, Rodriguez and Jenkins, you will go with Chief Sharkey to the Flying Sub. You will have to make do with the emergency rations and medical supplies there--and it may be a long wait. I imagine that you will be hungry, cramped and cold."
"Sir," began Kowalski, looking at Riley slumped in his seat.
"And you, Kowalski," interrupted Crane acerbically, "will suffer no such privations. You are coming with me."
"Are you in fighting shape?"
"Yes, sir," ventured Kowalski. Where was this heading?
"Good. You will carry my heavy gear to the head of the pass so that I can make better time. I've lost half the night fooling with you. You will carry my equipment double time to the step-off point, or bust a lung trying. Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly, sir." Man, the Skipper's really rubbing it in. I think we'll never hear the end of this one. Ah, what am I complaining about--he got us out of a real mess. He was just worried about us. Come to think of it, he never bothers to yell at us for any other reason, not like Mr. Morton. We've got nothing to worry about. Really.
They rode on through the empty night.
After miles of negotiating the winding coastal roads, Kowalski was relieved when the truck finally ground to a halt.
"Everyone out," summoned Crane quietly. The men tumbled out of the truck, Patterson and Rodriguez supporting the sore Riley.
"Patterson. You and Jenkins will drive this vehicle three point two miles farther. You will proceed at no more than 50 kilometers per hour. You will then push it into the ravine you will find, and you will run the three miles back to this location. If you encounter other vehicles, you will belly down in the underbrush. Questions?"
Uh-oh, thought Kowalski. Penance for this little escapade continues.
After ensuring comprehension from Patterson and Jenkins, Crane sent the truck off. Its tortured gearing soon faded into the night.
"Chief, you will take Riley and Rodriguez immediately to the Flying Sub."
Kowalski's heart leaped. The FS-1! Almost home! He belatedly heard the sounds of surf in the distance and realized they must be on a bluff overlooking a cove or bay suitable for making a landing from the FS-1.
"Excuse me, sir, uh, Captain."
At the sound of the quiet voice, Crane looked up from unpacking a cache of gear hidden beneath ferns beside the faint track leading down to the cove.
"Yes, what is it, Rodriguez?" Crane was impatient.
"If you please, sir, I would be honored if you would wear this." Rodriguez held out his beloved St. Christopher medal.
Crane straightened slowly, looking for a long moment into Rodriguez' eyes, and then down at his outstretched hand. Taking the medal gently, Crane observed, "This means a lot to you, doesn't it, son?"
"Oh, yes, sir." A pause. "St. Christopher will bring you safely home, sir."
Crane stood for a long moment, his gaze turned inward at old memories. Then, he quickly kissed the medal, slipped it over his neck and beneath his shirt, and crossed himself. "Go on, Rodriguez. Get out of here." Crane abruptly turned back to cache of gear.
* * *
A lone man kept vigil in a strange yellow craft, quietly humming at the bottom of a bay. Outwardly composed, the man nevertheless kept attentive eyes fixed on the one instrument he could understand: the Flying Sub's sonar. Dr. Jamieson checked his wristwatch for the umpteenth time.
Suddenly, sonar beeped. Jamieson sat forward, then relaxed as he saw the pattern of scuba divers just like Chief Sharkey had explained to him. Soon, he heard the gurgle and hiss of the airlock set into the lower hull of the submarine. He stooped to open the deck hatch.
First came Patterson, who eyed Doc with some surprise, then smiled to himself in a way Doc couldn't figure out at all. Patterson quickly turned and helped the next man stiffly clamber out of the well.
"Doc!" exclaimed Riley, then muffled a curse as Patterson grabbed a tender spot.
Dr. Jamieson noted Riley's impaired movement and quickly collared his first victim.
With similar astonishment, Jenkins and Rodriguez entered the FS-1. Only Chief Sharkey was unsurprised; no mystery there since the Doc had flown in with the Skipper and himself to this tiny bay some twelve hours earlier.
"All right, Rodriguez, quit your gawking and shake a leg. I'm hungry and Cookie put up some serious chow for us."
Dumbfounded, Rodriguez helped Sharkey pull out thermos bottles of hot soup, packets of thick ham sandwiches and tubs of potato salad.
"Guess we'll limp by on emergency rations, eh, Chief?" grinned Riley, still in Doc's clutches. "Ouch! Take it easy, Doc."
I'll be, thought Jenkins. I figured the Skipper was ready to keelhaul us. He eyed the hearty food and Doc's full spread of medical equipment. The Old Man really does give a damn. Jenkins thought back to the wild coast above them, about Kowalski and the Skipper still out there. He shook his head, picked up a sandwich and fell to with a will.
In the Flying Sub, time had slowed to a crawl. Warm, well fed, and their injuries tended by Dr. Jamieson, the truant sailors sat or lay on sleeping bags spread on the deck. The quarters were cramped, but miles above their former habitation.
"Chief." Patterson couldn't stand the waiting any longer.
Sharkey turned a stern glance his way.
"Chief, the Skipper and Ski. They've been gone a long time. Shouldn't they be back by now? It'll be dawn in half an hour . . ."
"The Skipper knows what he's doing, Patterson."
"But just what is he doing, Chief?" chimed in Riley from the bunk. "I mean, dig that scene at the jail--waltzed in and out like there was nothin' to it. Then up on the road--you saw the gear he loaded onto poor Ski? Like he was going climbing--where, I'd like to know? The only thing on the ridges around here are those fortress things run by the local goons."
"That's enough, Riley." Sharkey attempted to silence the Californian with one of his laser-intensity glares.
"C'mon, Chief, what gives? The Skipper gonna steal the crown jewels, or assassinate the president, or--"
"Shut your mouth." Sharkey highly resented such slurs on his Captain's character. The Skipper would never commit such skullduggery. Steal weapons plans from a defense plant maybe, but never steal for personal gain. And certainly never assassinate anyone--that would be murder, simple murder. Sometimes a mission got rough, sometimes the Skipper had had to kill--but he was no cold-blooded murderer. He was a professional--all the way.
"But Chief," persisted Patterson. "You know what the Skipper's up to, don't you?"
"No, I do not." The admission clearly pained Sharkey. He was one of the best informed noncoms in the fleet. "And you men will stop jawing about it. This mission is all hush-hush and you know it."
Sharkey swept the cabin with a basilisk glare. "If the Skipper had wanted you goof-offs to know, he woulda briefed you. But he didn't. And why? 'Cause he's got sense, that's why." Sharkey continued to berate the sailors, venting some of his own frustration and worry.
Listening to this exchange, Dr. Jamieson smiled to himself as he sat reading in the copilot's chair. Ah, he was glad his special position as ship's doctor kept him out of conversations like these. Doc glanced at the empty pilot's chair. Maybe he would lend the boys a hand--his patients had already had a rough night.
"Chief, you look beat." Doc nodded towards the empty pilot's chair. "You should rest--it's a long flight back to Seaview."
"Ah, no thanks, Doc. I'll, uh, just check the preflight systems again. The Skipper will probably want to skedaddle outa here the second he comes on board."
Dr. Jamieson shrugged and regarded the pilot's chair a moment. Chief Sharkey and the crew had religiously avoided it--and it sat empty and waiting . . . waiting on the bottom of the sea for its rightful occupant to return. Just--waiting.
Sonar beeped. Sharkey fairly leaped across the cabin and pounced on the console.
"Two divers. Patterson, stand by the hatch. Rodriguez, get on those airlock controls. Let's get 'em aboard quick."
The men jumped to obey, while Doc calmly began taking out his black medical bag. Knowing Captain Crane, he would probably be busy-if he could get his most difficult patient to hold still long enough.
"They're mighty slow about it, Chief," worried Patterson.
"Yeah. One of them isn't swimming too good. Real awkward. Doc, maybe you better be ready."
The men looked at each other. Kowalski? The Skipper? Which was hurt?
A knock on the underside of the hatch signaled the waiting men. Water gurgled as high pressure air forced the sea out of the airlock.
The hatch clanged back and Kowalski climbed nimbly up into FS-1.
"Chief, we got trouble."
"The Skipper? Get him up here! On the double!"
The second man was dragged upwards into the cabin by urgent hands. Quickly, his scuba gear was stripped off.
"What?" Patterson's mouth dropped open. He had pulled off the mask of the second diver and now looked into the face of a stranger. "Who are you? Where is Captain Crane?"
"Like I tried to tell you, Chief," said Kowalski into the silence. "We got trouble."
Sharkey was the first to recover. "What happened, Kid?"
"Well, Chief, it was like this. After you and the boys left for the FS-1, me and the Skipper, well, we started up the trail and . . . "
* * *
. . . After what seemed at least two miles of toiling up a narrow, rugged canyon slicing from the sea into the coastal mountains, following a barely discernible jungle track, Captain Crane finally called a halt.
"Hungry?" Crane asked neutrally.
"Yes, sir," stated Kowalski flatly, trying to fathom the Skipper's current mood.
At a gesture, Kowalski set down the heavy pack and sat down on a vine-covered rock. Crane dug out a thermos and thick packet and handed them to Kowalski.
"Eat," came the no-nonsense order.
Kowalski found himself holding hot soup and thick meat sandwiches--on Cookie's best bread.
"Skipper, I--" Kowalski started to protest, thinking of Pat and Stu and the others on the FS-1 with only emergency rations.
"Eat," repeated Crane. "Oh, er, I suspect Cookie may have augmented the Flying Sub's stores a bit. The man can't seem to help fussing."
Realization dawned on Kowalski. The Skipper would hardly be one to let his men go hungry while he ate well.
"And the emergency medical supplies?" ventured Kowalski, guessing that full supplies or maybe even a corpsman might greet his companions.
"Beats me, Kowalski. Although Dr. Jamieson was carrying quite a load when he came on board."
"Skipper!" Kowalski was delighted.
"For all I knew, one or more of you might have been seriously injured." Crane was gruff, not wanting his concern to show quite so transparently. "Eat," he repeated sternly.
"Yes, sir," agreed Kowalski happily. He started to make short work of Cookie's offerings. "Where we headed, sir?" he asked around a mouthful of smoked ham.
"Well, we've a steep climb just ahead. That will take us up and out of this canyon. We'll be right at the base of the mountains then, nearly at the foot of cliffs rising inland. There's a, er, facility at the top I'm going to pay a little visit to. I'm afraid I'll be an uninvited guest. I'm sorry, but that's all I can tell you."
Kowalski frowned but remained silent. He didn't like the sound of that. He didn't like the sound of that at all.
In a small clearing on the plateau, Kowalski watched uneasily as the Skipper completed his preparations.
Clad now in black fatigues, Crane was putting the finishing touches on the camouflage paint now darkening his face and hands. In the black dappled shadows, Crane faded into the darkness. Kowalski could really only see him when he moved.
It occurred to Kowalski that the Skipper was awfully good at this. He himself had winced at the amount of noise he had made stomping through the jungle with only broken moonlight to guide him. But the Skipper--he moved more like a big jungle cat, smooth and deadly. No wonder the Skipper had called a halt and would not allow Kowalski to go further.
"All right, Kowalski," said Crane in his command voice. "You are to wait here until 0500 hours. Dawn is at 0630 hours and you must be back aboard FS-1 before that. If day breaks, you'll have trouble getting over the coast road and down to the bay without being spotted by a patrol. That--must--not--happen. Clear?"
"Aye, sir." Kowalski hated it--he hated waiting endlessly in the dark while the Skipper went who-knows-where for who-knows-what.
"I expect to return by 0400 with a, er, Mr. Smith."
Yeah, right, Mr. Smith. Geez, Skipper, what has ONI got you into this time?
"If anything interferes with the prosecution of my primary mission objective, it is possible Mr. Smith will arrive here without me. He will say that he is a friend of Miguel and that it is time to go fishing. You got that?"
Kowalski shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Aye, sir," acknowledged Kowalski unenthusiastically. "'Friend of Miguel, time to go fishing.'"
"Now listen up--this is vital. Your first and only priority will be to transport Mr. Smith to the Seaview without delay. The instant Mr. Smith arrives here, you get him down to the Flying Sub and get underway for Seaview."
Crane looked directly into Kowalski's face, willing compliance.
After a pause, Kowalski nodded.
"Now just sit tight and I'll see you in two hours." Crane finished adjusting a body-hugging backpack filled, Kowalski had seen, with climbing ropes, spring-loaded grappling hooks, some type of demolition gear and electronic devices that he had not recognized. This latter surprised Kowalski--he was Seaview's best electronics man, and thought he knew every state-of-the-art gadget there was to know.
Strapping a holstered automatic around his slim waist, Crane shifted this way and that to ensure no equipment would jangle to alert wary ears, no straps would dangle to catch him up on sheer rock walls, and that he had complete freedom of movement. That citadel at the top of the cliffs ahead was going to be quite a climb. Yet, only this steep, mountainous approach was sufficiently unguarded to make his mission possible.
Crane turned to face Kowalski one last time. He fixed Kowalski with grim, cold eyes, then turned quickly and melted into the night.
Kowalski shuddered. The Skipper's eyes had mirrored death itself.
As minutes stretched into one hour, and then two, Kowalski fought to remain still. How he despised orders like this--just sit on his fanny while the Skipper traveled into danger. Kowalski hadn't liked the Skipper's expression--not one bit. No wonder the Skipper had been in such a foul mood in the truck--raking them all over the coals. The Skipper had had this to look forward to.
Man, we really messed the Skipper up tonight. He'd of had all night to do this job if it hadn't been for us. Now he's in a hurry-and all because of our cockamamie stunt. Oh, man, if anything happens to the Skipper . . . Damn! It's getting close to 0500. Can I just leave? But what am I supposed to do? The Skipper's out of my reach. Oh, man . . .
The minutes continued to creep by.
Kowalski's head suddenly snapped up. Someone was approaching from the direction of the cliffs, the direction that had swallowed up the Skipper over two hours before.
Kowalski held his automatic at the ready. Couldn't be the Skipper. Whoever this bozo is, he's making more noise than even me. Sounds like he's trying to be quiet, though. Kowalski concentrated on the furtive noise of footsteps, standing as still as the night shadows, and allowing the intruder to enter the clearing and reveal himself. The Skipper had planned this rendezvous site well.
A large, husky figure broke through a hanging creeper and staggered gracelessly into the clearing. The lone man seemed to peer tentatively around as if he expected company in this wilderness.
"Senors?" he whispered through a tight throat. "Please, I am friend of Miguel, eh? It is time for the fishing, no?" The man looked uncertainly in this direction and that.
"All right, Mac," spoke Kowalski with solid force. "You said the code words OK, but get your hands where I can see them until I get a good look at you."
The man slowly unfroze, and carefully turned towards the sound of Kowalski's voice, holding his hands out from his sides. "I am friend, yes?"
"Where is . . . Miguel?" demanded Kowalski.
"Please--he is injured. He says to remember your first priority and that you must tell a . . . a shark that no more fishing is to be done here." The man halted, eyeing the cursing sailor uncertainly.
"I knew it would happen. Man, I just knew it."
Although wanting to race up the trail to the Skipper's aid, Kowalski hesitated only briefly. He would obey orders. He always obeyed his Captain's orders. He would obey his Captain's last orders--to the letter. He would see this Mr. Smith safely aboard Seaview, just as the Skipper wanted.
But, perhaps it was already too late. Kowalski had already delayed precious minutes past his ordered departure time. He and Mr. Smith barely had time to work their way down the steep canyon and across the coast road before the light of dawn cut off their escape.
"All right, Mac, er, Mr. Smith. Let's move out. You injured at all? Good--you look like you can keep up a good hustle. You'll be safe and out of this lousy jungle in an hour."
Sighing in relief, the mysterious Mr. Smith braced himself for the arduous hour to come and hurried after the worried sailor.
* * *
". . . And then I brought Mr. Smith back to the Flying Sub just as fast as I could," concluded Kowalski.
"Let me get this straight, Ski." Chief Sharkey scowled at Kowalski, now dry, and clad in a spare jumpsuit. Sharkey did not like the sailor's story, not one bit.
"Exactly what did the Skipper say?"
"He said that getting, er, Mr. Smith back to Seaview was my first priority. That it was vital. He gave me code phrases in case something happened."
Sharkey threw up his hands in frustration.
"You know what the Skipper's like, Chief. What could I do?"
"All right, Kid. All right."
"Listen, I probably set a record for coming down a jungle canyon in the dark. So now Mr. Smith is here. He's safe, for Pete's sake. We gotta go help the Skipper."
"Negative," grimaced Sharkey as if the word tasted bad. "My orders were to wait here until Mr. Smith came aboard, and then proceed at flank speed for Seaview."
"Well, what's Mr. Morton or the Admiral say?" appealed Kowalski.
"No way to know. We are to maintain radio silence." Sharkey paused. "Is that all the Skipper said?"
"All I know is what Mr. Smith told me."
Chief Sharkey favored Mr. Smith with an unfriendly glance as the stranger sat huddled in a blanket, cupping a steaming mug of soup in both hands. Mr. Smith was sitting in the pilot's chair. The Skipper's chair.
"OK, OK-what else? The exact words."
Kowalski told him.
"No more fishing! The Skipper said no more fishing?" Chief Sharkey was visibly upset.
"Chief!" Kowalski's heart sank. "What does it mean?"
Sharkey took a deep breath. "Mission abort, Ski. We turn and walk away. Just . . . walk away."
* * *
Near the exposed base of brutal cliffs rising sheer out of the jungle, a solitary man struggled to muffle his own gasps of pain as he dragged himself under the protective cover of the underbrush.
Not good, Lee, not good at all, thought Captain Crane. Leg's broken in two places, I'll bet. Heard the bones crack when I hit. Kowalski better follow orders or I'll have his head. How long's it been? Dawn must be breaking on the east side of the mountains. I'll be in deep shadow for another hour at least. Yes, Kowalski must be safe by now-he'd of been here by now if he had disobeyed orders. That's something anyway--mission accomplished. Mr. Smith will be on Seaview any time now.
Damn that Smith! Civilians! Why didn't he tell me he was terrified of heights? He must have been aware of the escape route. But maybe not, Crane relented to himself. ONI probably didn't tell him a damn thing. Smith sure seemed surprised when all the fireworks started and I double-timed it to the cliff-tops.
I really blew it. I should have been prepared for Smith's panic. Civilian--my responsibility. My responsibility. Crane's thoughts became disjointed as the shock and pain took their toll.
Crane had finished dragging himself into the deep shadows beneath the tropical trees. Hopelessly, he laid his automatic on the ground close by his right side.
He turned over plan after plan in his weary mind. Make the coast road and hijack a vehicle? No-can't even hobble. Nothing to make a splint with. The canyon is just too rough-can't make it on one leg. Can't go back-the mountains are out. North or south? Canyon walls . . . too steep.
Every thought revolved around his priority orders. "Captain Crane, you must avoid at all costs revealing American involvement in this," Vice Admiral Johnson had stated. Must avoid at all costs. At all costs.
He laid his head back, staring sightlessly into the shadows enveloping him. He began to fumble with the collar of his fatigue jacket with his left hand. His lips moved silently and his right hand moved slowly up to his chest until he could feel the hard disk of Rodriguez' medal beneath his shirt.
Shaking his head in reluctant negation, Crane sadly eyed the tiny, glass vial he had worked free from the lining of his collar.
A small, white pill lay innocently inside.
Crane would fulfill his priority orders.
The tread of heavy boots came to him dimly.
Crane started. His entire universe seemed misty except for the solid throbbing of his broken leg, which nearly eclipsed the slicing pains of his battered side.
Muffled voices--four, maybe six men. A patrol.
That's it, then. Just no margin for error in this business, Lee, old boy. Well--I've done my job. Now I can rest. Really, finally rest. I'm so tired.
Crane's pain-drugged mind wandered. Looking upwards, he could see a sliver of the night sky through a gap in the branches which concealed him. Diamond-bright stars shone down upon him, unbearably far away, and filled his mind with their pure light.
The sharp crunch of boots on broken stones sounded suddenly nearer. Crane raised his head. His anguished eyes studied the shadowy figures, moving in a pantomime of searching. Doubtless looking for some sign of the agents who had escaped from the melee up above. Just too bad. I must have made another mistake. Wouldn't have thought anyone would consider the cliffs. Could've sworn I left no sign behind, puzzled Crane. He let the thought slip away.
Crane's eyes turned cold. No. He would not, could not, be taken by these men. He touched his automatic briefly. No. No point in fighting now. Must avoid escalating the situation. Already bad enough. Can't let them learn I'm an American . . . can't let them get the names of my contacts . . . Crane considered his ONI briefing on the local methods of interrogation-the new drugs to supplement physical torture. I'm strong, but . . . not that strong . . . no . . . blast them all to hell . . . they won't get anything from me . . .
Crane slowly increased the grip of his left hand until the top of the vial snapped off, leaving the tiny, white pill free to roll out of the tube. He laid his head back and gazed upwards once more.
"I'm sorry," Crane murmured to the heavens. He slowly raised his left hand towards his lips.
"Skipper!" The frantic hiss came from the darkness near his head. "Sir, we're running out of time! Where are you?"
Crane's hand froze. Was this a delirium? He fought to concentrate, to fight the fever rising in his battered body.
Kowalski tried another approach. "Hey, Miguel, old man, c'mon! We gotta go fishin'!"
"Kowalski?" faltered Crane.
"Skipper!" relief flowed through Kowalski's voice. "We gotta move out pronto, sir."
"Kowalski." Crane's weak voice held a thread of sterness. "You . . . you and Mr. Smith--"
"Mr. Smith is being delivered, sir." Kowalski was all business. With frantic waves of his hands, he got the attention of Patterson, Jenkins and Rodriguez.
"Sorry, sir, the trip down is going to be real rough. You're going under."
Before Crane could protest, he felt the sting of a hypodermic in his arm. The morphine pulled him into peace at last.
Quickly and carefully, the young sailors loaded their Captain onto a folding stretcher, taking care over the broken limb. As Rodriguez carefully strapped down the Skipper's legs and arms for the bumpy descent, he came to Crane's clenched left fist.
Slowly working the Skipper's fingers open, he found the halves of a small glass tube and a white pill. "Ski--hey, man, what is this?"
Kowalski took a look and turned pale. Swallowing heavily, he eyed the unconscious face of his Captain.
"Bad news, Rod. Real bad news. Get rid of it. Now."
"But, what is it?"
"Cyanide." Kowalski bit out the word.
Rodriguez' eyes widened in horror. "Suicide? Oh, but that is very bad. Our Lady would not like it--"
"Shut up, Rod! You know what the bastards in these third world cesspools can do to a guy. And the Skipper has all kinds of contacts in the resistance, I'll bet. He knows too much, OK?" Kowalski could not repress a shudder. "C'mon, let's get out of here."
Rodriguez' face settled into a frown and he bit his lip. He laid a gentle hand on Crane's head. "Seaview takes care of her own, sir. You must have faith."
Picking up the stretcher, the four young sailors bore their Captain down into the fading night.
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