Glimpses of Fear
Beware the Ides of March, Part II
The captain and the executive officer entered the room. The SEAL waiting there drew to attention and prepared to deliver his report.
“You came back alone.” The captain’s words were both a statement and a question.
“The mission is not yet complete, but it was urgent that you receive a report.”
“Then give your report, sailor.”
“Intelligence was received from Contact Alpha.” With this, he extracted a sealed, watertight package from inside his jacket and handed it to the captain. “However, before the message could be delivered to Contact Bravo, military troops came through. There was some type of skirmish with the locals. We believe the lieutenant was caught in the crossfire.
“We laid low until it was quiet again, then attempted to ascertain her location. We had just spotted her when enemy uniforms arrived at her position. She was captured.”
“You believe she was injured?”
“Where’s the rest of your team?”
The young man narrowed his eyes, annoyed by the question. “Refusing to leave a man behind, sir.”
“Do you believe we can get her back before this turns into a major international incident?”
“Uncertain, sir. But we’ll do our damnedest.”
The captain and the XO left the room to return to the bridge. “Can’t wait to make this report,” the captain muttered sarcastically as he went.
He’d been stomping through the woods for hours. He’d long since lost track of how many miles he’d walked. All he knew was that the calm he was seeking was nowhere to be found.
All day long, as he worked his way through his normal mountains of paperwork and meetings with contractors, he had felt a darkness clouding his soul. He couldn’t explain it, but as the day progressed, it felt like an elephant was standing on his chest. As soon as his last meeting ended, he stalked out of his office and took off on his woodland trek. Normally, when he was tense or upset, a walk through the forest would calm his nerves and soothe his soul. For some reason, it wasn’t working today.
Jim Frayne stopped in the middle of his father’s game preserve. He closed his eyes and drew in several deep breaths. He mentally reviewed every aspect of his day, and then his week. The more he wracked his brain, the fewer clues he found to explain his tension.
In his experience, tension with no source only meant one thing: Trixie was in trouble.
His fiancée had been in the Navy for nearly five years. She was an intelligence officer with a penchant for being near the action. In all that time, he’d never experienced this feeling of impending doom. She was currently halfway across the globe, stationed off the coast of Korea. And here, in peaceful little Sleepyside-on-Hudson, he had a painful wrenching in his gut.
Turning in the direction of home, he contemplated asking his dad for a personal favor. She’d kill him if she found out what he was thinking. Jim and his friends had a private code, whereby they never used the power, influence, or connections available to them for personal gain. When a couple of your closest friends are the children of wealthy multimillionaires of far-reaching influence in both the business and political communities, there is always a temptation to take advantage of that. Jim never had.
Today, he just might.
His parents were old and dear personal friends to the Chief of Naval Operations. The admiral could access information on any sailor anywhere in the world, if he so chose. From the time Trixie had started in the Navy ROTC program in college, all had agreed to never contact the admiral with regard to Trixie or her job. It was a matter of respect, allowing her to use her own abilities to make or break her career.
He didn’t want to ask for her to be transferred. He didn’t want to get her promoted or demoted. All he wanted was reassurance that she was okay.
The churning in his gut kicked up a notch, and the pressure in his chest tightened. He’d never make it through the night if he couldn’t be sure she was okay.
Please, Trixie. Please come home to me.
The admiral retained his military posture until he’d disconnected his telephone call. Then he sat back heavily in his chair and massaged his temples. The first call he’d received on the crisis had come late in the afternoon on the east coast. After two hours on the phone, he’d cleared his office so he could make his report to the Secretary of the Navy. He planned to take just a moment to regroup before resuming the crisis meeting. He should probably call his wife and let her know he’d miss dinner, as well.
He smelled the coffee before he heard her footsteps. He pried open his weary eyes and saw his wife setting a travel mug of fresh coffee in front of him. She was dressed to the nines for the dinner function they’d planned to attend this evening, and she was depositing a brown paper sack on his desk.
He smiled at the love of his life. “How did you know?”
“After all these years, I can feel the change of atmosphere when a crisis pops up,” she replied with a smile of her own. “I’ll be fine at dinner alone. Just do what you need to do.”
He grabbed her hand and kissed it. She pressed her lips to his forehead and turned to go.
His intercom chirped. “Admiral, Matthew Wheeler is on line 1.”
Looking at his phone as if it were a rattlesnake, the admiral stared in shock. “No way in hell!”
His wife turned back toward her husband at his exclamation. “What’s wrong?”
“Matthew Wheeler hasn’t called me at the office in almost ten years.”
“You talk to him all the time,” she said with a frown.
He shook his head. “No, you talk to Maddie all the time. I talk to Matt occasionally. From home. He hasn’t called me at the office since the day Trixie Belden joined NROTC.”
She squinted in concentration, trying to put the name to a face. “Oh,” she exclaimed, her expression lightening. “Jim’s fiancée! At Honey’s wedding I remember thinking that Jim and his girl looked even more in love than the bride and groom.”
The admiral nodded absently, still staring at the phone with a frown.
She’d known him a very long time, and was able to draw her own conclusions. “The crisis du jour involves Trixie Belden.”
His face grew grim. He never broke his code of honor and conduct, and that included discussing highly classified ops with his wife. He could neither confirm nor deny. “He can’t possibly know about that. And yet, I’d bet money he’s calling to ask me to check up on her.”
His wife looked at him with absolute certainty in her troubled eyes. “Jim Frayne knows.”
“That’s impossible,” the CNO was quite certain.
“Twenty-three years ago, you were on a ship in the Gulf Coast,” she said. “Something went wrong during a routine training mission, and you were injured. It was two days before I got the phone call, and another two weeks before you arrived at a stateside hospital.”
The admiral nodded, remembering. His expression clouded over as he wondered what in hell that had to do with Matt Wheeler’s son.
His wife enlightened him. “The very minute you were hurt, I knew. I felt it in my heart. And I didn’t sleep a wink until you were stateside and I could see you, touch you, reassure myself that you were okay.”
He felt an ache in his gut, knowing what she’d been through. Knowing someone somewhere else was going through it right now.
“I can’t take his call.”
“I know,” she nodded in understanding. “I’ll pick it up in your outer office. I’ll tell him you’re even too busy to see me. He’ll wait a while before calling back.”
“Thank you,” he said. “And send my crew back in here. I need to take care of this problem, or I’ll never be able to talk to Matt again.”
“Aye, aye, Admiral,” she replied with a smart salute, before turning on her heel and leaving to complete her mission.
The first thing that penetrated her consciousness was warmth. She’d been so cold for so long, the warming up of her flesh was painful. She realized, slowly, that she wasn’t actually in a comfortable temperature, it was just less cold here than where she’d been. That, and she wasn’t lying on cold, hard earth. Her body was prone on something not soft; her best guess would be a bare floor. She was on a man-made surface, in some type of shelter, with a blanket wrapped around her. Compared to her last conscious memory, this was a significant improvement.
Or was it? Her next realization was the sound of voices…speaking in Korean. Her linguistics training kicked in, and she recognized a northern dialect. Feigning sleep, she focused her foggy brain on trying to translate the words. Hearing a debate over what to do with the prisoner caused her some confusion, until her mind registered the fact that these people were discussing her.
Prisoner of North Koreans.
Given the extremely tense state of relations between the U.S. and North Korea, an American intelligence officer captured on North Korean soil was a big problem. There were two likely outcomes. One, the North Koreans could publicly proclaim her capture, touting American treachery and pushing the nations to the brink of war. She would live, because they had to have a prisoner to make their point. But thousands of others on both sides might die.
The second option was that the North Koreans would kill her and deliver her body to the American government as a clear message not to mess with them. The U.S. could not respond without admitting they’d sent their officer in against the letter of several international laws and treaties.
While she would gladly sacrifice her life to save others, that didn’t make the second option more appealing.
Besides, Trixie was going home to Jim. No matter what.
She must have moved, because one of the men came over to check on her. He kicked her, but she continued playing possum. The man knelt down to feel her pulse and leaned in close.
“Beware the Ides of March,” he whispered.
It took every ounce of control she possessed not to smile. Here was her ace in the hole.
She cracked one eye briefly, so she could get a good look at him. It helped to know which face was friendly.
He winked at her, then stood and called to his comrades that the filthy American wench was still unconscious.
She closed her eyes and remained motionless, listening and learning all she could while she waited. Sooner or later, an opportunity to escape would present itself. When it did, she would have help taking advantage of it.
Beware the Ides of March.
She knew Will Shakespeare would never let her down.
I love the Ides of March, in case you haven't noticed. When I started this story last year, I had no idea what I was going to do with it. And you've all complained about where I left poor Trixie so much! I had to give you something today. A little something, anyway. *veg*
Thanks to my editors: Bonnie, comma queen, who gets ignored half the time because I love commas *snort*; AprilW, who knows what I'm thinking and comes up with the words that escape me; Trish, who nit-picks about military details - after all, if Trixie's going to be in the Navy, let's get it right; and WendyM and Misty who make sure my voice is still heard.
I would apologize for leaving the story off here, but what fun is that? *snicker*