The Book of Fate
Beware the Ides of March, Part III
Trixie’s captors were starting to get anxious about her continuing lack of consciousness, so she made a show of moaning and groaning a bit. She continued the charade by acting groggy and confused, and unable to understand their language. She finished the performance with remaining silent and terrified. That seemed to make them feel better, at least for a while.
After morning arrived, they prepared to move her to another location. From what she could understand, it seemed to be a three-hour walk. Considering how much pain her leg was in, and how doubtful it was that it could sustain her weight, she didn’t think they were going to be happy with the slow pace she would set. Nor did she think they would be kind and make her a stretcher; the effort they’d already put into splinting her leg was all the help she was going to get. She mentally prepared for a very stressful day.
Her contact – the officer she had designated in her mind as Will (after the Bard himself) – hauled her to her feet. As he did so, she felt him slip a tiny SD card up her sleeve. She lost her balance, intentionally, as she surreptitiously retrieved the matching card she was supposed to exchange for the one he’d given her. Gripping his arm tightly to steady herself, she passed it to him.
At least if she got the chance to escape, she’d have the information she’d come for and her mission would be complete. While she couldn’t imagine getting lucky enough to get out of her current predicament easily, she still had visions of completing the mission alive. No matter that the deck was stacked against her; she was stubborn that way.
Will allowed Trixie to lean on him as he dragged her out into the bright sunshine. The air was only slightly warmer than it had been last night, but she didn’t feel as chilled. For one thing, she was moving instead of lying on frozen ground. The sun felt warm, and the light gave the impression of even greater warmth. That, added to a couple of hours sleep, and she was feeling much better.
Until she tried walking, that is. Fighting the pain, she managed to go about a hundred feet before her leg gave out. The sharp, searing agony that shot from her toes straight out the top of her head nearly caused her to scream. As it was, she couldn’t stop the sharp gasp that escaped her mouth.
While she was bent over, taking deep breaths to force down the pain, she realized she could easily grab Will’s sidearm. She calculated her odds, trying to figure out if she could take down the other three soldiers quickly enough to avoid getting her own head blown off. She had just about decided to avoid such a suicide mission for the moment when she saw the slightest movement in the bushes off to her side.
Hope soared. Her team! The SEALS had come looking for her. Of course they had; they’d never leave a man behind. She wondered if this were an authorized extraction, or if they were in trouble with command for potentially making things worse by attempting a rescue. She decided she didn’t care; if they all made it out alive, a reprimand would be worth it.
Trixie looked up, out in the general direction from which she’d seen movement, and gave a signal with the slightest tilt of her head. If they knew she was aware of their presence, they’d wait for her to make a move.
One of the North Koreans – the one she called Shorty in her mind – shoved her forward. Will’s hand on her arm was the only thing that kept her from falling. She made a show of cowering, then attempting to walk. After another few steps she stumbled again.
This time, however, the fall was faked. She kept control of her body, and on the way down she managed to grab Will’s sidearm unnoticed. When he bent to pull her up, she shoved him down and thrust his own gun in his face.
She heard the same unmistakable sound she’d heard last night – the North Koreans cocking their weapons at her. Before they’d had a chance to pull any triggers, however, three American snipers fired. All three North Koreans went down without a sound.
A petty officer emerged from the shrubbery and ran to her. As he approached, she was standing over Will offering him a word of thanks.
Will responded from his prone position, “At least wound me, so I can make it look good.”
Trixie nodded to the petty officer. He shot Will in the fleshy part of the leg, and then knocked him in the head with his gun. Once Will was unconscious, the petty officer grabbed Trixie’s arm and flung it over his shoulder. “Come on, LT, we’ve gotta get you the hell outta here.”
“I’m all for that,” she responded. “I owe you one.”
“This just makes us even for Adar,” he said.
They headed into the undergrowth, where another team member met them and grabbed Trixie’s other arm. Her feet were no longer touching the ground, and they started to make pretty good time. The rest of the team fell in behind them, covering their backs, or running up ahead to clear the path.
Trixie tried not to think about how much difficulty lay ahead. Even at a good clip, they still had an hour’s run to the shore. Once there, they would need cover of darkness to slip back to the ship… something which would have to be done underwater. She wasn’t really up to a long swim in frigid waters.
She wasn’t so worried, now that she was with her team. No matter how hard the road ahead, they would make it out. Together.
The communications officer looked up from his monitor. “Captain! We’ve got a homing signal from the SEAL team. They’re 300 yards off the starboard bow.”
“Thank God,” the captain exclaimed. Turning to his navigator, he asked, “Is that course laid in?”
“Yes, sir. Just waiting for go.”
“As soon as the SEALs are secured aboard, get us the hell outta here, full speed.”
“Aye, aye, captain!”
When the captain arrived in sick bay, the SEAL team leader was reporting to the doctor what he knew about Lieutenant Belden’s condition, while the doctor leaned over the gurney making his own assessment. The lieutenant began to stir.
“So help me, Belden, don’t even think about moving,” the doctor muttered.
Her eyelids fluttered open. In a barely perceptible whisper, she said, “Just gotta get something.” She reached one hand across and grabbed the sleeve of her other arm. A moment later she lifted her hand in the air, a small black disc held between her fingers.
The captain stepped over to her side to take the disc. She attempted to focus on him, struggling to make her voice heard. “Mission accomplished, sir.”
Taking the disc, the captain responded, “Never doubted it for a second, Lieutenant. Now get some rest.”
“Aye, aye, captain,” she whispered as her eyes closed.
The captain waited a minute to be sure she was out. Then he turned to the doctor and said, “Make sure I get the full injury report ASAP. Washington wants to know.”
He turned and left the room to deal with the disc… and to write up the required paperwork to put his lieutenant in for a commendation.
Jim Frayne paced the library at Manor House. He felt as if he’d been pacing for years. Had it really only been twenty-four hours since he’d begun feeling this sense of impending doom?
He turned anxious eyes to the doorway when his father entered the room. Matthew Wheeler looked tense, but not as grim as he’d looked when Jim last spoke to him two hours earlier.
“Did you hear from the admiral?” Jim needed to know.
Matt gave a short nod. “Basically, whatever happened is top secret. Trixie’s been injured, but she’s okay. They’re transferring her to Hawaii – not because she’s injured that badly, but for our sake. Apparently, Peri Watson told her husband that you wouldn’t be okay until you could see for yourself that she was.”
“She’s got that right,” Jim muttered. He searched his father’s face for any sign that he was holding back. “Is that really all he told you?”
“It is.” Matt seemed irritated by that. He was used to getting his way. “She’s still in Korea somewhere, so it’ll take a day or two to get her to Hawaii. I’ll get Peter and Helen, and we’ll leave tomorrow.” He rested a hand on Jim’s shoulder. “I swear, son, I’ll get you to her as fast as I can.”
“Please, Dad.” Jim didn’t care how pitiful he sounded. He just needed Trixie.
Everything was a blur. Trixie had drifted in and out of consciousness. She vaguely remembered impressions of travel; there was a helicopter, a hospital, a plane, an ambulance, another hospital. She’d stayed out for so much of it that they must have been keeping her drugged. Her mind was fuzzy, and she had no idea where she was.
Without moving, she tried to assess her condition. The last time she’d woken up not knowing where she was, she’d been held at enemy gunpoint. Better to gather as many facts as possible before alerting anyone that she was conscious.
The typical antiseptic hospital odor was masked by the smell of flowers. There were normal hospital sounds, but they were distant, as if she were separated from them. The logical part of her brain suggested a private hospital room filled with flowers, but that didn’t seem right for an injured sailor in a military setting.
Then she registered the long, gentle fingers toying with her engagement ring.
First of all, she knew for a fact she had not worn her ring on her mission. Second of all, she’d know that touch anywhere.
Blinking rapidly to clear the sleep from her eyes, she tried to focus on the man by her bedside. Licking dry lips, she forced one word past them. “Jim.”
Startled, he turned to look at her. The relief that washed over him was so obvious to her that it made her heart ache to know how worried he’d been. She laced her fingers through his.
“Oh, Trixie,” he breathed, leaning in to place a soft kiss on her forehead.
She placed her other hand on his cheek and held his gaze. With as much strength as she could manage, she fiercely declared, “I promised you I was coming home to you. I promised. I’ll never break that promise.”
Jim touched his lips to hers, his love poured into the swift gentle kiss. “I was scared, Trix. I prefer to be with you when you’re in trouble.”
She chuckled. “Always my hero, huh? Not this time, love. This was scary.”
A throat was cleared loudly. Trixie looked over Jim’s shoulder to see a rather angry Admiral Watson. “Mr. Frayne, I specifically warned you not to ask that question!”
Trixie responded in no-nonsense fashion. “Not to worry, Admiral. I wouldn’t have answered.” She looked at Jim. “You don’t have security clearance, pal. Sorry.”
Jim studied her for a long time. She gazed back, implacable. Finally the admiral strode over and placed a hand on Jim’s shoulder. “Sorry, son, but I need to debrief my lieutenant. I’ll have to ask you to leave for a while, but when I’m done she’s all yours.”
“Until you send her back,” Jim grumbled. He looked away, embarrassed to be unable to contain his distress.
Trixie squeezed his hand. She understood his reaction but still wanted his support.
“There’ll be no need for that,” the admiral assured him.
Glancing at him in surprise, Trixie asked, “What do you mean?”
Admiral Watson winked at her. “By the time you get off medical leave, you’ll be ready to be transferred to the reserves. Mind you, I’ll require a long commitment to the reserves from you, but at least your man here can keep an eye on you otherwise.”
Trixie raised one brow while narrowing her eyes. Her irritation was plainly written all over her face.
The admiral shooed Jim out into the hallway and closed the door before returning to her bedside. He stared her down with his stern face. “Would you rather I gave you a medical discharge?”
“No, sir,” Trixie responded through clenched teeth.
“Then quit complaining, Lieutenant.”
Trixie said nothing, just continued to glare at him. The admiral sighed wearily as he settled into the chair Jim had recently vacated. “You nearly became the spark to ignite war, Belden. You’re so damned lucky to be alive that I still can’t believe you’re here.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Stop arguing with me, go home, and grow old with that boy.”
“Yes, sir.” Her response this time was subdued, moved by the admiral’s world-weary expression.
Returning to his normal commanding presence, the admiral straightened. “Now, let’s get this debriefing over with.”
Several days later, Trixie was preparing for her discharge from the hospital. She still had a long road to recovery that would require a great deal of physical therapy, but due to her future father-in-law’s considerable influence, it would be happening at a private facility in New York.
As Helen Belden efficiently packed Trixie’s bag, her daughter sighed. “Why, exactly, am I leaving the beauty of Hawaii to return to New York in late March? Can’t I at least wait until spring actually arrives?”
“No, you may not wait until June.”
Helen’s sass surprised Trixie into a fit of laughter. Grinning at her, Helen said, “You’re lucky enough to have a ton of family and friends. We all want to help you recover. Not everyone can drop everything and rush off to Hawaii. Those of us that did can’t stay here forever. Be reasonable, sweetheart.”
“I know, I know,” Trixie rolled her eyes. “It’s just that this is the fourth time I’ve been to Hawaii, and I’ve never gotten to see any of it! I’m always making flight connections… or worse.”
“I’d like to have better memories of the place, myself,” Jim said as he entered the room. Trixie raised her face to accept his kiss. “I hear it’s a nice honeymoon destination.”
Trixie grinned. “Now you’re talking, Frayne!”
“How about if we make sure you can actually walk down the aisle, first,” Helen clucked.
Trixie just rolled her eyes. “I’m fine, Moms.”
Helen’s lips flattened into a thin line. She and Jim exchanged a look, remembering the fright of their trip out to the islands, and equally sure that they had no idea how bad it had really been.
Trying to put those thoughts behind them, Jim cleared his throat. “As I was passing the nurse’s station, this arrived for you, so I offered to deliver it.”
Jim handed Trixie a package in plain brown parcel wrapping. A glance at the return address sparked her curiosity, and she quickly tore into the paper. Inside was a nice leather-bound copy of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Trixie flipped open the front cover.
Her ship’s captain had written, in strong bold strokes:
Glad you fared better than Caesar did, Belden. Bon voyage!
Trixie smiled. William Shakespeare would always be her personal good luck charm.
Stringing you along for two years was kind of cruel, but I had fun with it. I hope you don't mind too much.
Thanks to my editors for speedy work and taking care of me while I was busy thinking of other things: Bonnie, Trish and WendyM.
I hope the page is okay; to be honest, I threw it together in a half hour in between tours on our family vacation to NYC. I had too much else to concentrate on this week!